The CNET-CBS TV Technology Debacle
Primetime Anywhere in conjunction with Auto Hop got the networks hopping mad. Fox News, not entirely without justification, declared that the Primetime Anytime feature “will ultimately destroy the advertising-supported ecosystem.” Topolsky reports that CBS CEO Leslie Moonves told investors that “Hopper cannot exist … if Hopper exists, we will not be in business with (Dish).”
But what happened next at CES was a fiasco. Top management at CBS ordered CNET to rescind its vote, and compounded that gross editorial intervention with an additional order to the effect that CNET wasn’t allowed to explain exactly what had happened. On Monday, one of the longest-tenured reporting stars at CNET, Greg Sandoval, resigned, saying via Twitter that “I no longer have confidence that CBS is committed to editorial independence” and that “CNET wasn’t honest about what occurred regarding Dish.” Lindsey Turrentine, editor-in-chief of CNET Reviews, did herself no favors in her own account of the mess, saying that “maybe” she “should have quit” but that “If I had to face this dilemma again, I would not quit.” Uh, what?
As a fellow journalist, I feel for colleagues put in an impossible position. CNET’s brand just took a huge hit, and that sucks for everyone concerned. But there are some things I don’t quite understand about this story.
Everyone who has covered the evolution of TV since TiVo launched the DVR age knows that ad-skipping technology is a sensitive topic for the broadcast networks. Understandably so — that’s how they pay their bills. For 40 employees of a company that is owned by a television network to get together and put their Best-of-Show-imprint on a device that takes dead aim at the business model of their owner is provocative, to say the least.
I’m not saying the device didn’t deserve the honor; I’d certainly like to play with the Dish Hopper. But it amazes me that no one appeared to see the angry corporate reaction coming.