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CBS takes aim at a rival, shoots CNET in the foot

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For the most part, being owned by a giant media entity probably isn’t such a bad thing: you have a lot of resources behind you when things get tough, the Christmas parties are usually pretty good, and so on. Then there are the other times — like the ones where your parent company is suing someone and won’t let you give them an award or write a review of their products, even though that’s your job. That’s what the tech news-and-reviews site CNET is going through right now, after CBS (s cbs) pulled rank on its web subsidiary on Thursday.

CNET was ready to give the Hopper with Sling DVR, a set-top box from Dish Network (s dish), a spot in the finals of its “Best in CES” awards at the Consumer Electronics Show — until a directive came through from the site’s corporate parent CBS that the Hopper couldn’t win the award, because CBS is suing the company over its AutoHop commercial-skipping feature.

Not only was the Hopper disqualified from the award, but CNET added an editor’s note to its review of the device saying it would no longer be reviewing any products that were the subject of litigation with its parent company — a list that would include both the Hopper and Aereo, the over-the-net video broadcasting startup backed by Barry Diller, which CBS is also suing.


As John Hermann of BuzzFeed noted, this is probably every tech journalist’s nightmare: being told by a corporate parent that they can’t do their jobs because the parent co. is involved in a a lawsuit. But it’s more than just a journalist’s nightmare — it could be a serious problem for CNET when it comes to maintaining the trust of their readers. The site noted that the restrictions only affects its reviews and not its news reporting, but will readers make that distinction?

Presumably, when someone goes to the CNET site looking for information about set-top boxes or video-streaming hardware, they want the most complete information they can find. If they know that certain products aren’t going to be reviewed because CBS doesn’t like them for some reason, that’s going to color their impressions of the site’s thoroughness in doing its reviews — and it might also make them wonder about what else is being left out.

The more cynical might wonder whether anyone will even notice once the CES decision blows over, but for media entities — even large ones — in times like these, the trust of their readers is more valuable than ever, and it should probably not be squandered lightly.

Post and thumbnail images courtesy of Flickr user Hans Gerwitz

10 Responses to “CBS takes aim at a rival, shoots CNET in the foot”

  1. tatilsever

    “The site noted that the restrictions only affects its reviews and not its news reporting, but will readers make that distinction?”

    It is not like news reporting on CNET involves some kind of investigative journalism. Most of what passes as news on CNET is quoting press releases. Reviews and impressions of products are pretty much all of its original content. If reviews are not going to be unbiased, why bother visiting that site? There are already a ton of quickly written reviews with “we gotta find something nice to say about every product or otherwise we may get review units” feel, in addition to an even larger selection of “we have not used this product, but here is a copy and paste from the features tab of the product’s website.”

    I think the bigger question is, does corporate management of CBS allow editorial independence to its TV network. Should we assume that such explicit pressure on the TV news division based on advertiser or corporate concerns is commonplace?

  2. nickiler

    CBS has no business owning a review company and then putting their agenda a head of quality unbiased reviews. This appears to also be a serious conflict of interest CBS owning and then dictating the quality or lack of by filtering the results for their own gain.

  3. Mazimadu

    CNET’s statement that CBS’ ban on covering products and services that it’s litigating against only affects reviews and not news coverage is a distinction without a difference. Short of having a reporter or editor resign and speak out, how do we know that CNET’s news coverage isn’t being affected by pressure from CBS corporate? How do we know that editors and writers won’t self-censor and avoid covering stories that might offend the parent company? Similarly, how do we know that CNET won’t (or hasn’t already) given positive coverage to stories that are of benefit to CBS? This is always the problem when a news organization is a part of a much larger corporation that has divergent interests.

  4. I didn’t know about the Hopper until this surfaced, and since I was getting ready to sign up for service already, this made me pick Dish over Directv! I support them after watching the CES interview where Dish says it’ll focus on users (ME!).

    I called and Dish said it would be available 1/17/13. Now I wonder how we can boycott CBS. I love technology and enjoyed CNET – but I’ve already removed them from my RSS reader and bookmarks. As David Spade says: aaaa-bye-bye.

    I’m not a fan of anyone who ‘reviews’ are corporate decisions. CNET should come with a disclaimer like ‘advertisements’ or similar watermarks to indicate that it is just a journalistic facade for CBS.

  5. I’ve been telling people for years not to trust CNET for reviews – it’s misleading in how it looks thorough when it’s not well researched or consistent with anyone’e else experiences who are not paid for. Let’s hope they realize it now.

  6. ricdesan

    What floors me the most at this point is CBS corp idiocy in not only totally compromising a quality property in a highly competitive market sector, but to do so on behalf of a medium – in this case display advertising – which is already mostly a dead process anyway.

  7. Chuck Jones

    Excellent article Mathew. You mite want to follow up with something more on the way CBS Interactive gets no respect or serious consideration of it’s views from CBS New York, and their very narrow TV lensed view of the world.