What CBS and CNET really need

CBS and CNET may be the worst possible partners for each other.
Back in the late nineties, I worked at CNET. It was a pretty heady moment. The company seemed to be setting new standards and best practices every day. But now, CNET doesn’t seem interested in setting the pace any longer. It couldn’t even get out of its own way long enough to come up with a widget strategy that is early or novel, and has opted out of leading a technology ad network. CNET still has a great content product, excellent editorial and infrastructure staff, and deep experience in premium online advertising. CNET needs ownership that is going to push it to become a stonger content and advertising network, rather than becoming some corporation’s Internet trophy bride. CBS has saved CNET from getting the tough love it needs.
Meanwhile, CBS needs more distribution and network power and fewer content businesses. We’re moving into a world where (at least in the near term) there will be greater separation between the distribution and creation of content. Media companies must get out in front of that trend. This is particularly true of CBS, whose broadcast network is increasingly threatened by cable and the Internet. They need to remember that they’re in the network business. And they’re only in show biz because they own a powerful distribution network. It’s easy to forget that they got where they are by laying coax, setting up microwave towers, and fighting for affiliates in scruffy little towns.
In this world, Cox’s acquisition of Adify looks a lot smarter, giving them more network and infrastructure expertise and a business that is poised to grow. It’s not as glamorous, but it should be a solid and important business as the network economics of media become more clear.
The good news for both partners is that CNET still has tremendous potential. But CBS is going to have to learn how turn it into the kind of content and advertising network it should have already become by now.
Originally published on my blog at JupiterResearch.