A big tech story at the end of last week involved CNET and Dish Network, which showed off its commercial-skipping Hopper device at CES. The Hopper received rave reviews from CNET writers and was accepted into the site’s “Best of CES” category. And then it wasn’t. In the blink of an eye, the Hopper was removed, and in its place stood a disclaimer that CNET would not cover the Hopper due to ongoing litigation between Dish and CNET’s parent company, CBS.
According to the Verge, however, that’s not all there is to the story. The Hopper wasn’t just a “Best of CES” product; it had actually won “Best in Show.”
CBS’s legal team quickly moved in for the kill, and CNET was forced to re-vote for the “Best in Show” award without being able to consider the Hopper at all. The news was delivered to CNET staffers by CBS Interactive News Senior Vice President and GM Mark Larkin, who was apparently in tears as he informed them of CBS’s decision. According to the Verge, the order came to Larkin straight from CBS CEO Leslie Moonves, who hasn’t been the Hopper’s biggest fan.
There will undoubtedly be some consequences for CNET thanks to the short-sightedness of its parent company. For starters, it’s clear now that CNET has no editorial independence from CBS. Should the company become tangled up in litigation with Samsung, for example, who’s to say that CNET won’t apply the same no-coverage rules to a Galaxy S phone or tablet? For a site that covers the top technology stories and reviews the hottest products, purposely ignoring major entrants is a big hit to CNET’s credibility.
All the noise about the story may have drawn more attention to the Hopper, as well. CBS may not have wanted to give Dish any ammunition to use in court, but by banning the Hopper from CNET in the way it did, CBS actually got the device major press coverage in many different publications, and got itself and its technology site some poor PR, to boot.
It feels like we haven’t heard the last about this story. Earlier today, reporter Greg Sandoval resigned from his post at CNET, citing his belief that CBS is no longer “committed to editorial independence.” I wouldn’t be surprised if other reporters follow suit.