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Setting the record straight: Verizon's Fios ads and CNET

A Verizon Fios TV advertisement implies that CNET's experts called its picture quality "near-flawless," when no such claim was made.

A Verizon commercial implies CNET reviewed the Fios TV service, but we did not.

Verizon is running an ad implying that CNET gave its Fios TV service's picture quality a positive review, calling it "near-flawless." The reality is that a CNET Networks property did use that phrasing in a news story, not a review, and the words are taken out of context.

Adding to the confusion, CNET itself bears some of the blame.

Here's the all-important context: a series of Fios TV spots running in the New York metropolitan area and possibly elsewhere uses a couple of words clipped from a June 21, 2007, CNET piece on Verizon's Fios service. The commercial flashes a quote on the screen that says "near-flawless" along with the CNET logo, while a voiceover proclaims: "Your HDTV doesn't want cable. Give it Verizon Fios, for picture quality the experts call 'near-flawless.'" Another, more-recent ad is also running with a slightly expanded logo-backed quote that reads: "A near-flawless TV experience." Check out the video, which CNET uploaded to YouTube, for the original spot.

Those words did appear on a story ( and CNET Reviews are sister sites published by CNET Networks). But the context of the original piece, titled "Verizon's fiber-optic payoff," reads quite differently from how Verizon is using it:

This fierce competition reinforces how important it is for Verizon to offer a near-flawless TV experience. Verizon's executives knew that getting that experience right would be key, and that getting it right meant making sure there was enough bandwidth on the network to deliver several streams of high-definition video at once. It also meant ensuring the service was reliable and met customers' expectations.

Nowhere does the article give any opinion, implied or overt, about Fios TV's actual picture quality. And CNET Reviews has not evaluated Fios TV.

In Verizon's defense, it followed standard procedure. I spoke with Bobbi Henson, the company's media relations director, and she said that in preparation for running the ad, Verizon contacted CNET's permissions department and asked for a license to use the quote and CNET's logo for one year. Verizon received permission to use the words, but the ad execution did not get reviewed. As a result, the problem with the phrase being taken out of context was not caught.

Verizon is aware that CNET feels the quote was taken out of context, and Verizon has agreed to shorten what was formerly a year-long license. The ads will no longer appear after May 15, 2008. And CNET is taking steps to tighten up its ad-review process.

I appreciate Verizon's concession, and I realize that these things happen all the time. I just wanted to set the record straight and let you know that our experts never called Verizon Fios TV "near-flawless" as the result of any critical evaluation.