The CBS-CNet Integration, One Year Later


It was the marriage of the oldest of old media with the oldest of new media. CBS was roundly criticised last summer for dropping $1.8 billion on CNet, an early web publisher with strong tech and gaming cred that over time had become a big, slow-moving, unprofitable bureaucracy.

But nearly a year later, integration is complete, and so far the marriage seems to be working, at least strategically. The message boards don’t ring with internecine grumbling, and the cultures, while different, have grabbed hold of one another — in part for dear life. As CBS Interactive CEO Quincy Smith said with a little hyperbole, “It has to work, for the internet.”

For CBS, the acquisition was a galvanizing event. Long a nonplayer and underinvested on the web, it’s now a No. 8 global web property. As a unit of CBS, long-struggling CNet now has entrée to the brand-advertising dollars that eluded itdespite its significant online audience. CNet is now benchmarked against other media conglomerates — Disney and News Corp., not Yahoo and AOL.

 Ad Age Digital  DigitalNext  MediaWorks “It’s good culture, good chemistry, and I think it really works,” said Curt Hecht, president of VivaKi Nerve centre, a unit of Publicis. CBS Interactive has moved to San Francisco, where former CNet CEO and CBS Interactive President Neil Ashe and many of his top deputies are based.

Mr. Smith is based in New York, and pretty much lives on a plane. The question is whether the architect of the deal and of CBS’s digital strategy will stick around when his contract expires this summer. While Mr. Smith has defined digital for CBS, he is a dealmaker and strategist, not an operator. He has not yet discussed his future with CEO Leslie Moonves, but execs close to the situation said Mr. Smith could move into a consulting role later this year. Mr. Smith is noncommittal. “This is not the Quincy show,” he said. “I’ll do what I can for the company.”

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