CNET (short for "Computer Network") is an American media website that publishes reviews, news, articles, blogs, podcasts, and videos on technology and consumer electronics globally, owned by Red Ventures since 2020. Founded in 1994 by Halsey Minor and Shelby Bonnie, it was the flagship brand of CNET Networks and became a brand of CBS Interactive through that unit's acquisition of CNET Networks in 2008, which was the previous owner prior to October 30, 2020. CNET originally produced content for radio and television in addition to its website and now uses new media distribution methods through its Internet television network, CNET Video, and its podcast and blog networks.
In addition, CNET has region-specific and language-specific editions. These include Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Korean, and Spanish.
In 1994, with the help from Fox Network co-founder Kevin Wendle and former Disney creative associate Dan Baker, CNET produced four pilot television programs about computers, technology, and the Internet. CNET TV was composed of CNET Central, The Web, and The New Edge. CNET Central was created first and aired in syndication in the United States on the USA Network. Later, it began airing on USA's sister network Sci-Fi Channel along with The Web and The New Edge. These were later followed by TV.com in 1996. Current American Idol host Ryan Seacrest first came to national prominence at CNET, as the host of The New Edge and doing various voice-over work for CNET.
From 2001 to 2003, CNET operated CNET Radio on the Clear Channel-owned KNEW (910) in the San Francisco Bay Area, WBPS (890) in Boston, and XM Satellite Radio. CNET Radio offered technology-themed programming. After failing to attract a sufficient audience, CNET Radio ceased operating in January 2003 due to financial losses.
CNET, Inc., the site's owner, made various acquisitions to expand its reach across various web platforms, regions, and markets.
In 1998, CNET, Inc. granted the right to Asiacontent.com to set up CNET Asia and the operation was brought back in December 2000.
In October 2000, CNET Networks acquired ZDNet for approximately $1.6 billion. In January 2001, Ziff Davis reached an agreement with CNET Networks to regain the URLs lost in the 2000 sale of Ziff Davis. to SoftBank, a publicly traded Japanese media and technology company. In April 2001, CNET acquired TechRepublic, which provides content for IT professionals from Gartner, for $23 million in cash and stock.
In May 2002, CNET Networks acquired Smartshop, an automated product catalog and feature comparison technology company, for an undisclosed amount.
On July 14, 2004, CNET Networks announced that it would acquire Webshots, the leading photography website for $70 million ($60 million in cash, $10 million in deferred consideration), completing the acquisition that same month. In October 2007, they sold Webshots to American Greetings for $45 million.
In August 2005, CNET Networks acquired Metacritic, a review aggregation website, for an undisclosed amount.
In December 2006, James Kim, an editor at CNET, died in the Oregon wilderness. CNET hosted a memorial show and podcasts dedicated to him.
On March 1, 2007, CNET announced the public launch of BNET, a website targeted towards business managers. BNET had been running under beta status since 2005.
On May 15, 2008 it was announced that CBS Corporation would buy CNET Networks for US$1.8 billion. On June 30, 2008, the acquisition was completed. Former CNET Networks properties were managed under CBS Interactive at the time. CBS Interactive acquired many domain names originally created by CNET Networks, including download.com, downloads.com, upload.com, news.com, search.com, TV.com, mp3.com, chat.com, computers.com, shopper.com, com.com, and cnet.com. It also held radio.com until CBS Radio was sold to Entercom in 2017.
On September 19, 2013 CBS Interactive launched a Spanish language sister site under the name CNET en Español. It focuses on topics of relevance primarily to Spanish-speaking technology enthusiasts. The site offered a "new perspective" on technology and is under the leadership of managing editor Gabriel Sama. The site not only offered news and tutorials, but also had a robust reviews section that it was led by Juan Garzon. After Red Ventures' acquisition, the company announced the closing of CNET en Español on November 11, 2020, leaving the largest tech site in Spanish in the US out of the market.
In March 2014, CNET refreshed its site by merging with CNET UK and vowing to merge all editions of the agency into a unified agency. This merge brought many changes, foremost of which would be a new user interface and the renaming of CNET TV as CNET Video.
CNET launched a website to cover video games, CNET Gamecenter, in the middle of 1996. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, it was "one of the first Web sites devoted to computer gaming news". It became a leading game-focused website; in 1999, PC Magazine named it one of the hundred-best websites in any field, alongside competitors IGN and GameSpot. According to Gamecenter head Michael Brown, the site received between 50,000 and 75,000 daily visitors by late 2000. In May 2000, CNET founded the Gamecenter Alliance network to bring Gamecenter and four partner websites, including Inside Mac Games, under one banner. Nielsen//NetRatings ranked Gamecenter the sixth-most-popular gaming website in the United States by mid-2000.
On July 19, 2000, CNET, Inc. made public its plan to buy Ziff-Davis and its ZDNet Internet business for $1.6 billion. Because ZDNet had partnered with SpotMedia—parent company of GameSpot—in late 1996, the acquisition brought both GameSpot and Gamecenter under CNET, Inc.'s ownership. Later that year, The New York Times described the two publications as the "Time and Newsweek of gaming sites". The paper reported that Gamecenter "seem[ed] to be thriving" amid the dot-com crash, with its revenue distributed across online advertising and an affiliate sales program with CNET's Game Shopper website, launched in late 1999.
Following an almost $400 million loss at CNET as a result of the dot-com crash, the company ended the Gamecenter Alliance network in January 2001. On February 7, Gamecenter itself was closed in a redundancy reduction effort, as GameSpot was the more successful of the two sites. Around 190 jobs were cut from CNET during this period, including "at least 20" at Gamecenter, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Discussing the situation, Tom Bramwell of Eurogamer reported, "It is thought[...] that very few if any of the website's staff will move sideways into jobs at GameSpot, now the company's other gaming asset." The Washington Post later noted that Gamecenter was among the "popular video-game news sites" to close in 2001, alongside Daily Radar.
With a catalog of more than 400,000 titles, the Downloads section of the website allows users to download popular software. CNET's download.com provides Windows, Macintosh, and mobile software for download. CNET claims that this software is free of spyware, but independent sources have confirmed that this is not the case. While Download.com is overall a safe place to download programs, precautions should be taken before downloading from the site, as some downloads do contain malware.
In 1998, CNET, Inc. was sued by Snap Technologies, operators of the education service CollegeEdge, for trademark infringement relating to CNET, Inc.'s ownership of the domain name Snap.com, due to Snap Technologies already owning a trademark on its name.
In 2005, Google representatives refused to be interviewed by all CNET reporters for a year after CNET published Google's CEO Eric Schmidt's salary and named the neighborhood where he lives, as well as some of his hobbies and political donations. All the information had been gleaned from Google searches.
On October 10, 2006, Shelby Bonnie resigned as chairman and CEO, in addition to two other executives, as a result of a stock options backdating scandal that occurred between 1996 and 2003. This would also cause the firm to restate its financial earnings over 1996 to 2003 for over $105 million in resulting expenses. The Securities and Exchange Commission later dropped an investigation into the practice. Neil Ashe was named as the new CEO.
In 2011, CNET and CBS Interactive were sued by a coalition of artists (led by FilmOn founder Alki David) for copyright infringement by promoting the download of LimeWire, a popular peer to peer downloading software. Although the original suit was voluntarily dropped by Alki David, he vowed to sue at a later date to bring "expanded" action against CBS Interactive. In November 2011, another lawsuit against CBS Interactive was introduced, claiming that CNET and CBS Interactive knowingly distributed LimeWire, the file sharing software.
In January 2013, CNET named Dish Network's "Hopper with Sling" digital video recorder as a nominee for the CES "Best in Show" award (which is decided by CNET on behalf of its organizers), and named it the winner in a vote by the site's staff. However, CBS abruptly disqualified the Hopper, and vetoed the results because the company was in active litigation with Dish Network. CNET also announced that it could no longer review any product or service provided by companies that CBS are in litigation with (which also includes Aereo). The new vote subsequently gave the Best in Show award to the Razer Edge tablet instead.
Dish Network's CEO Joe Clayton said that the company was "saddened that CNET's staff is being denied its editorial independence because of CBS' heavy-handed tactics." On January 14, 2013, editor-in-chief Lindsey Turrentine addressed the situation, stating that CNET's staff were in an "impossible" situation due to the conflict of interest posed by the situation, and promised that she would do everything within her power to prevent a similar incident from occurring again. The conflict also prompted one CNET senior writer, Greg Sandoval, to resign.
The decision also drew the ire of staff from the Consumer Electronics Association, the organizers of CES; CEO Gary J. Shapiro criticized the decision in a USA Today op-ed column and a statement by the CEA, stating that "making television easier to watch is not against the law. It is simply pro-innovation and pro-consumer." Shapiro felt that the decision also hurt the confidence of CNET's readers and staff, "destroying its reputation for editorial integrity in an attempt to eliminate a new market competitor." As a result of the controversy and fearing damage to the show's brand, the CEA announced on January 31, 2013 that CNET will no longer decide the CES Best in Show award winner due to the interference of CBS (the position has been offered to other technology publications), and the "Best in Show" award was jointly awarded to both the Hopper with Sling and Razer Edge.