New Castle News

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January 21, 2013

Mitchel Olszak: CBS practices censorship to protect its interests

NEW CASTLE — When it comes to integrity in the field of broadcasting, few can challenge the standing of CBS.

Since the days of radio, this organization has stood out in its commitment to tough-minded, serious journalism. From Edward R. Murrow to Walter Cronkite to the current crop of reporters on “60 Minutes,” CBS has built a reputation no entity can match.

But some tarnish has shown up on the so-called “Tiffany Network.” And it comes courtesy of one of its smaller online operations.

CNET is a website that provides all sorts of information related to technology. It reviews new devices, provides access to computer downloads and in general is designed to assist its users navigate today’s world of high-tech wonders.

And it happens to be a subsidiary of CBS.

Last week, at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, CNET had planned to present Hopper with Sling — a creation of Dish Network — with the website’s Best of CES Award. But that didn’t happen, because CBS intervened.

CBS said it exercised rare corporate control over CNET, declaring Hopper could not be considered for the award — because the device is in litigation and because of questions over its legality. It just so happens CBS is raising the legality issues, and is suing Dish over the Hopper.

What’s the problem? The name “Hopper” provides a hint. The device allows Dish television viewers to basically “hop” over commercials. It’s a high-tech version of taping a television program and skipping the ads when you watch it.

Now, it doesn’t take a television programming executive to understand why CBS — and other networks for that matter — are upset with the Hopper. They make their money off commercials. And if the general technology makes it simple for viewers to bypass ads without hassle, that’s probably what they will do.

And if the viewership of commercials drops measurably, networks can expect to see their advertising dollars plummet. That raises all sorts of questions about the future of commercial television and how viewers will receive quality programming without cost under these circumstances.

But I suspect most people who watch TV don’t worry about the future in that regard. They’re just looking for instant gratification.

As for CBS, I think its concerns about the Hopper are well founded. I don’t know how the network’s lawsuit against it will pan out. But the worries behind it are perfectly understandable.

But by interfering with CNET’s award, the network engaged in the sort of censorship it normally would condemn. Better to allow the website to do what it wants, and then respond appropriately.

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