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Old Jan 14, 2013, 02:22 PM   #1
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Dish Network's Hopper wins CES best of show, but it didn't

On Friday, news broke that CNET had been forced by its parent company CBS to remove the Dish Network's Hopper set-top box from its "Best of CES" awards due to ongoing litigation between the two companies. CBS has been battling the Dish Network in court over the Hopper's ability to skip past commercials automatically (NBC, ABC, and Fox are also taking action).

CBS Interactive representatives told The Verge that the Hopper with Sling had been "withdrawn from consideration" from the "Best of CES" awards due to CBS's lawsuit with Dish; that the ban on coverage is limited only to specific products implicated in ongoing litigation with CNET's parent company; and that the ban only applied to product reviews and that news coverage would be exempt. That policy appears to have been hastily put in place. Prior to the move Friday, CNET had reviewed the Hopper and written extensively about the device.

But the problems may go deeper than that. The Verge has now learned that the facts of the case are somewhat different than the story CNET and CBS had previously shared with the public. According to sources familiar with the matter, the Hopper was not simply an entrant in the Best of CES awards for the site: it was actually chosen as the winner of the "Best of Show" award (as voted by CNET's editorial staff).

Apparently, executives at CBS learned that the Hopper would win "Best of Show" prior to the announcement. Before the winner was unveiled, CBS Interactive News senior-vice president and General Manager Mark Larkin informed CNET's staff that the Hopper could not take the top award. The Hopper would have to be removed from consideration, and the editorial team had to re-vote and pick a new winner from the remaining choices. Sources say that Larkin was distraught while delivering the news at one point in tears as he told the team that he had fought CBS executives who had made the decision.

Apparently the move to strike the Hopper from the awards was passed down directly to Larkin from the office of CBS CEO, Leslie Moonves. Moonves has been one of the most outspoken opponents of the Hopper, telling investors at one point, "Hopper cannot exist... if Hopper exists, we will not be in business with (Dish)."

According to sources, reviews lead Lindsey Turrentine, Larkin, and CBS Interactive president Jim Lanzone fought hard against the mandate from CBS, with numerous calls between CBS Interactive and CBS in New York. One source told The Verge that Turrentine and Larkin were "beside themselves" over the situation.

This runs counter to the official story given by officials at CBS and CNET to both Dish Network and the public. Dish's head of corporate communications Bob Toevs told CNN that the company had been contacted by CNET representatives and informed that the Hopper had been removed from consideration for an award just prior to the news site's article announcing this year's winners. At this time, CNET also added a disclaimer to its "Best of CES" page stating the following:

The Dish Hopper with Sling was removed from consideration 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 statement suggests that CBS's policy towards Dish's Hopper with Sling was determined when the DVR had been publicly announced as a finalist. Instead, it appears that CBS's official ire (and edict to replace it as winner) was only roused when the award had already been decided on internally, and the corporate side of CBS had been quietly alerted to CNET's editors' vote.

The news raises questions not only about CNET's editorial independence, but concerns over why editors at the site have remained mum on the events surrounding the decision to remove the Hopper as winner of its "Best in Show" award. It suggests a growing influence of CBS' corporate interests in editorial decisions at its digital news subsidiaries. One source says that both Larkin and Turrentine fought for full disclosure, but were rebuffed by CBS.
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