CBS Keeping CNET on an Awkwardly Short Leash

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CNET and its parent company CBS got themselves into an awkward situation at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where CNET, a tech site that reviews gadgets, wanted to give an award to a gadget it had reviewed, but CBS wouldn't let it. The basic story is simple, but thanks to a not-always-obvious web of relationships behind the scenes, the upshot is that CNET's parent company just cost it a bit of credibility.

CNET, which apparently has more than 90 editors at CES, tweeted earlier this week that it had nominated DISH Network's Hopper with Sling DVR as a finalist for its Best of CES awards, according to BuzzFeed. It had given the Hopper a glowing review already, so nobody was surprised at that. But when it announced those awards on Thursday, the Hopper was, surprisingly, absent. It hadn't lost the contest, but CBS had told CNET to disqualify the product because CBS is currently suing DISH over a feature on the Hopper that allows users to skip over commercials. Per BuzzFeed: "CBS Broadcasting and CBS Interactive, which operates CNET, are in different divisions of the company. Nonetheless, when CNET editors chose the Dish on its merits, the CBS mothership told them they couldn't."

CBS says its policy doesn't impact CNET's credibility because it only applies to reviews and only to specific products. But that's not a realistic approach. The problem, as PaidContent's Mathew Ingram points out, is that readers won't necessarily make the distinction between review and news. If they're seeking the most complete information available, they won't get it, and if they know some products are being left out, "that’s going to color their impressions of the site’s thoroughness in doing its reviews."

The only redeeming quality of this awkward collision between CNET and its corporate parent is that it unfolded in public. Now that we know CNET has a policy of not reviewing certain products, we know not to take their reviews as holistic. Nor anyone else's, for that matter.