Pushed by CBS, CNET Drops Dish Hopper From CES Awards

My first reaction when I heard CBS banned the Dish Hopper with Sling from the CNET Best of CES awards was it has to be a mistake.

Unfortunately, it’s true — and yes, it is a mistake. It may be legally pragmatic to avoid giving the opposition in a lawsuit homemade ammunition but the CBS corporate decision to ban reviews of products it is in litigation over may do more lasting damage.

CNET Best of CES promoCBS and other programmers concerned by the potential economic impact of the “record anything, watch everywhere with easy ad skipping” technology used in the Dish Hopper are suing over the device and the concept. That’s going on at the corporate level. At CNET, litigation like that is a running news story, the kind you try to be objective about and post with the right disclosures to make sure your readers get the news and info they need.

CNET, which has a near-impeccable reputation for independent reviews, reviewed the device and liked it so much that it wound up as a finalist for a 2013 Best of CES award. The review, with the headline “Dish Hopper with Sling: HD DVR almost has it all,” is still up but the device was yanked from the awards lineup. The review and the awards page have this statement now at the bottom:

The Dish Hopper with Sling was removed from consideration for the Best of CES 2013 awards due to active litigation involving our parent company CBS Corp. We will no longer be reviewing products manufactured by companies with which we are in litigation with respect to such product.

That’s the same statement I got from CNET PR when I asked about the decision. The statement stresses reviews, separating that aspect of CNET from news coverage. There’s no editor’s note on the Dish press conference post from CES.

It’s a legalistic sleight of hand that doesn’t really work. Instead, CBS undermined CNET’s credibility and diminished one of the tech news site’s marquee events by trying to avoid a positive note for Dish that could show up in court.

Meanwhile, Dish gets to brag about the device and take a jab at CBS at the same time via a press release about the disappointment. Dish frames its argument for the Hopper and similar battles with programmers as Dish=consumer. This statement from the release is a shining example:

“We are saddened that CNET’s staff is being denied its editorial independence because of CBS’ heavy-handed tactics. This action has nothing to do with the merits of our new product. Hopper with Sling is all about consumer choice and control over the TV experience. That CBS, which owns CNET.com, would censor that message is insulting to consumers.

DISH is not afraid to stand up for consumer rights and we think that Hopper with Sling will do well, despite the network’s questionable actions.”

This isn’t just about Dish. It covers reviews of products from any company CBS is suing or is being sued by. For instance, this new CBS-mandated policy would block reviews of products from Barry Diller-backed Aereo, the over-the-air-to-broadband streaming video service CBS and other networks.

It’s actually limited to active litigation so might not happen often but unless CBS finds a way to walk this back, it will continue to erode CNET’s credibility and authority.