CEA thumbs nose at CBS, grants award to Hopper

Gadget Show DISH Network
DISH Network president and CEO Joe Clayton greets the company mascot, Hopper, at the start of a news conference during press day at the Consumer Electronics Show, Monday, Jan. 7, 2013, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Kudos to the Consumer Electronics Association for standing up for technology - even the disruptive kind.

Three weeks after the close of the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the CEA announced today that it was awarding a belated "Best of CES" award to the latest version of Dish Networks' Hopper, a multiroom DVR that makes it easier than ever for views to skip past commercials as they watch recordings of prime-time TV.

As I explained in today's Tech Life column, the Hopper ran into a sticky little problem en route to the best-of-show honors it deserved based on the views of the staff of CNET, the technology website that - until this hoo-ha erupted - was responsible for some of the show's best-known awards.

The problem? CNET's parent company is CBS, and CBS doesn't exactly like technology that makes it easier to avoid the commercials its sponsors pay for.  The fewer people who watch them, the less those sponsors will want to pay. All four major networks have been fighting against the Hopper's AutoHop feature in court.

When the show ended, a gaming tablet called Razer Edge was the sole winner of the "Best of Show" ward, and a CNET journalist, Greg Sandoval, had resigned in protest.

But today, CEA said it had fixed both of its problems:

CNET editors originally selected the Hopper with Sling as Best of Show before CNET’s corporate parent, CBS Corp. forced them to remove the Hopper from consideration due to ongoing litigation between CBS Corp. and DISH over specific features of the Hopper. After the Hopper was removed from consideration and a revote by the editors, CNET awarded the Razer Edge as Best of Show.

“The CNET editorial team identified the Hopper Sling as the most innovative product of the show, and we couldn’t agree more,” said Karen Chupka, senior vice president, events and conferences for CEA. “The Hopper with Sling and the Razer Edge both represent the best of the exciting, innovative technology introduced at the 2013 CES. We are pleased to recognize both products as Best of Show.”

And CNET is out as a partner for the "Best of CES" awards - an unholy relationship that illustrates the sometimes-fuzzy line between technology bloggers and the businesses they write about. CNET had already announced that it would refrain from writing about businesses when its parent company is involved in litigation with them, but CEA - which recently joined a friend-of-the-court brief supporting Dish's postion - said it would seek a new partner for the awards.  Its news release said:

“We are shocked that the ‘Tiffany’ network which is known for its high journalistic standards would bar all its reporters from favorably describing classes of technology the network does not like,” said CEA President and CEO Gary Shapiro. “We believe that the DISH Hopper DVR is fully covered by the Supreme Court’s ruling in Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios Inc. The simple fact is making television easier to watch is not against the law. It is simply pro-innovation and pro-consumer.”

Stay tuned for the outcome of all the litigation. But it's great to see there's no ambiguity about the CEA's role in this multipart drama.