Do you remember who won CNET‘s “Best of CES” award last year? Probably not. What you likely will remember is who should have but didn’t win it this year, thanks to a boneheaded PR move by CBS.
The parent company of CNET is in heated litigation with Hopper, the Dish Network service that allows users to skip past commercials. It has been deemed dangerous and potentially illegal by just about every major television network as it promotes an technology that cuts off their revenue stream.
When CNET’s editorial team voted that Hopper would get the top prize, CBS brass reacted swiftly, saying that the litigation made it necessary for the technology to be removed from litigation and that the editors would have to re-vote. The results of such actions were easily predictable to anyone other than corporate morons who do not understand the world of the internet. First, it was leaked. Then it was reported (and bashed) by several publications including Betanews, PC Mag, AllThingsD, Salon, Techcrunch… the list goes on and on. Then, the first resignation came through.
It should have been another worthless award that few would cover. Instead, it was turned into an epic debacle that makes CBS look like a jealous, foolish old company that operates out of fear and doesn’t have a clue about how to handle situations in today’s world. CNET doesn’t look so bad; all reports show that they fought vigorously for editorial integrity but were shot down by corporate interests.
Had CBS just let it go through, they could have turned it into a positive, even from a litigation perspective. By acknowledging that the technology is fantastic (it is) and focused on the legalities of whether or not a service such as television broadcasting should be undercut by another entity that profits off of their efforts (a very valid case), then they could have actually benefited by letting CNET give them the award. Acknowledging innovation but noting that it’s breaking a covenant is a high road that would have helped them from a PR and litigation perspective. Instead, they chose to go down the knee-jerk reaction path that highlights the backwards practices associated with corporate American television.
Perhaps the worst part for CBS is that it was still an obscure technology… until today. Millions of people will be made aware of Hopper who would never have heard of it before. Conversations will center around it. People will look into it, consider it, even buy it.
A little less censorship and a little more common sense would have gone a long way towards helping CBS achieve their goals. Instead, they shot their own foot in an epic manner.