Peter Kafka

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CNET Wanders Into the CBS-Dish Crossfire at CES

gunfight_showdownNice gadget. Bad company!

That’s the message CBS and its CNET technology site have managed to send today, by banning a Dish Network device from a CES award competition.

This one isn’t a huge deal, but it’s an interesting one, because it shows just how annoyed the TV networks are with Charlie Ergen and the moves he’s making to shake up, if not blow up, their business.

The story: Last year, Ergen’s Dish introduced “The Hopper,” a DVR whose features include the ability to auto-forward past ads. TV programmers, including CBS, aren’t happy about the gadget, and have taken Dish to court.

This year, Dish used CES to roll out a new version of the gadget, which might also tick off the TV guys. But the reviewers at CNET seemed to like it, describing it as “cutting-edge stuff” that “helps Dish make a strong case that its HD DVR is the most advanced out there.”

That was Monday. Yesterday, CNET announced that the new gadget was up for a “Best of CES” award the website oversees. But today comes word that the device got the boot, due to the lawsuit.

Here’s CNET’s statement, which it has also appended to its original review:

The Dish Hopper with Sling was removed from consideration for the Best of CES 2013 awards 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.

Dish, in turn, says it is “disappointed” with CNET/CBS’ call.

But it’s hard not to detect a bunch of “this is the best publicity we could have asked for” glee in the satellite guys’ press release. It comes packed with links to reviews, Tweets, photos and other material that make it easy to construct a post just like this one.

Here’s Dish CEO Joe Clayton’s statement. Kind of imagine him and his PR folks high-fiving as they hit “send” on this one:

We are saddened that CNET’s staff is being denied its editorial independence because of CBS’ heavy-handed tactics. This action has nothing to do with the merits of our new product. Hopper with Sling is all about consumer choice and control over the TV experience. That CBS, which owns, would censor that message is insulting to consumers. DISH is not afraid to stand up for consumer rights and we think that Hopper with Sling will do well, despite the network’s questionable actions. We have had a long, productive relationship with CNET’s editorial staff and we look forward to continuing that relationship. We welcome their unbiased evaluation and commentary of our products and services.

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus