The Consumer Electronics Association has issued a press release awarding the Dish Hopper with Sling DVR the coveted "Best of Show" award at CES 2013. As The Verge reported and CNET later confirmed, the Hopper had been voted to win CES's top award by the editors of CNET, before executives at CNET's parent company CBS vetoed the vote due to CBS's ongoing lawsuit against Dish.
Yesterday, CEA president and CEO Gary Shapiro sharply criticized CBS's editorial interference with CNET's technology coverage in an op-ed in USA Today, and announced the CEA would be "considering [its] legal options under [its] agreement with CNET." Today, the CEA officially ended CNET's role in choosing the Best of Show award at CES, and announced it would issue a request for proposals from other potential partners. CEA senior VP Karen Chupka writes that the CEA is "concerned [CNET's] new review policy will have a negative impact on our brand should we continue the awards relationship."
Multiple sources said CNET would not attempt to bid for the CES awards in an attempt to move on from the controversy. A CNET spokesperson issued this response: "As the #1 tech news and reviews site in the world, CNET is committed to delivering in-depth coverage of consumer electronics. We look forward to covering CES and the latest developments from the show, as we have for well over a decade." A CBS Interactive spokesperson told The Verge that prior to the CEA's decision, CBS had already determined it would not attempt to partner with CES for the awards again.
"making television easier to watch is not against the law. It is simply pro-innovation and pro-consumer."
CBS's lawsuit with Dish concerns the ad-skipping function on Dish's line of Hopper DVRs. Other broadcast networks have also sued Dish, arguing that ad-skipping violates the copyright of the broadcast and damages their ability to support programming with revenue. As part of a new editorial doctrine issued by CBS, CNET is no longer permitted to review products or services whose legality is being contested by CBS. This ban on reviews affects Dish's Hopper DVRs and Aereo's livestreaming service. Both Dish and Aereo argue that their products and services fall within consumers' protected rights regarding television content. (Note: Like CNET, The Verge was an official news partner during CES 2013.)
CNET editors "were in an impossible situation as journalists"
Initially, CNET editors voted to name the Hopper with Sling DVR Best in Show. Representatives of CBS vetoed CNET's decision and instructed its editors to vote for another winner. CBS also issued a new policy barring further CNET reviews of the Hopper and Aereo. CBS also ordered CNET staff not to disclose that the Hopper had won the original vote, only that it had been removed from consideration for the award due to CBS's lawsuit with Dish.
CNET reviews editor Lindsey Turrentine would later write, "we were in an impossible situation as journalists… but the circumstances demanded more transparency and not hurried policy… I wish I could have overridden the decision not to reveal that Dish had won the vote in the trailer. For that I apologize to my staff and to CNET readers."
On January 25, the CEA, in its role as a trade organization and lobbyist representing the electronics industry, issued an amicus brief in support of Dish in its lawsuit with the networks, as well as a statement by Shapiro:
The Hopper more convenient to use and has more storage capacity [than a VCR], but has the same essential function — it allows viewers to time-shift and watch television programming at their convenience. The simple fact is, making television easier to watch is not against the law. It is simply pro-innovation and pro-consumer.
In yesterday's op-ed attacking CBS's interference in CNET's Best of Show vote and future coverage, Shapiro writes:
[CBS] destroys two reputations in a single action. CBS, once called the Tiffany network, will never be viewed again as pristine. The ethical media rule is that corporate business interests should never interfere in journalism – or at least not so blatantly, publicly and harmfully. It made me wonder if 60 Minutes had ever suffered the same treatment.
CBS' actions also hurt the value of their asset, CNET, which they purchased for $1.8 billion a few years ago. One CNET reporter even resigned over the editorial meddling. Not only have CNET users and partners like us lost confidence in its independence, but the action is so devastating to editorial integrity that other staffers are almost certainly freshening their resumes.
CBS, Shapiro says, is "destroying its reputation for editorial integrity in an attempt to eliminate a new market competitor." In response, a spokesperson issued this statement on behalf of CBS Corporation:
CNET is not going to give an award or any other validation to a product which CBS is challenging as illegal, other networks believe to be illegal and one court has already found to violate the copyright act in its application. Beyond that, CNET will cover every other product and service on the planet.
Dish President and CEO Joseph Clayton issued this statement:
We appreciate the International CES’ decision to stand with the consumer in the acknowledgement of this award. With today’s announcement, the Consumer Electronics Association demonstrates the roles innovation and leadership must play in our industry.
I regret that the award has come in the face of CBS’ undermining of CNET’s editorial independence. We look forward to continuing our longstanding relationship with CNET’s editorial staff and hope they are able return to their long tradition of unbiased evaluation and commentary of the industry’s products and services.
A representative from Razer reached by phone was not able to return a request for comment.