Harlan Neugeboren /
11.01.2006 12:00 AM
The News Professional Case for Going to CES
I know that budgets are tight and we all have enough to do in our busy schedules and convincing management to go to yet another tradeshow may be impossible, but the Consumer Electronics Show is probably the one show besides NAB that every news professional needs to attend.

Seeing what the vendors are pushing as the next consumer platform can provide invaluable insight into what devices and platforms viewers will use to get content. Also, some of the technology may be useful in producing news.

IPTV

IPTV is probably the most misunderstood term in our industry. Simply put, any A/V content delivered via the IP protocol is IPTV... Windows Media streaming is via IP and is the basis for the new Microsoft IPTV platform.

Last year at CES, Microsoft showcased the new IPTV platforms that it will be rolling out with AT&T; and Microsoft Foundation Edition, the guide for the current Verizon FiOS rollout. The Microsoft IPTV suite contains a program guide, channel building tools, VOD tools and interactive application tools.

In the Yahoo tent outside, Yahoo showed its next-generation television platform based on Yahoo Go, which creates a unified look across the Web, mobile devices and TV. Some of the platform is based on the Yahoo Widgets, little desktop applications that are very easy to use, and have a bold graphical look.

Why care about these platforms you may ask? Because they will be delivering content to your customers. Each of these platforms has interactive components, and understanding how these work, and the possibilities for delivering interactive news content, is very important. News, traffic, weather, sports scores and closing information work very well on interactive platforms and they give you the ability to be more local if you know what ZIP code the set-tops are in. They offer new advertising and revenue opportunities.

If the number of video iPods is any indication of how small a screen viewers are willing to use in exchange for the freedom to view things when and where they want, then all of us should spend some time wandering the aisles of CES to look at the multitudes of portable media devices.

Microsoft had a whole section of its booth dedicated to certifying devices for Windows Media Player. The company also showed connectivity between its Media Center application and these devices. With Media Center, a viewer can record a particular program and then download it to a portable device.

iTunes has made deals with many program suppliers to allow users to download their favorite shows. Users can also choose from a large selection of Podcasts.

So why should engineering, operations and programming people care? Because the iPod has shown that if you give users what they want the way they want it, they will watch it. Why not give viewers the ability to download specific stories or special segments? It's fairly easy to do and will show your viewers that you are aware of the trends and are working to meet them. This could potentially open new revenue opportunities if these segments are sponsored.

MEDIA CENTERS

Microsoft recently released the Media Center Edition of its operating system, which allows users to centrally store all of their music, photos and videos and serve them to extender devices connected to a television or stereo. It also provides PVR functionality, a program guide and excellent search capabilities.

Apple has its Front Row application, and it recently announced the ITV, which will connect to any Mac and allow users to view media from that computer on the TV.

There are external devices that add PVR functionality to any Mac, and there are a few that look like the Mac Mini and are designed to sit right below the Mini.

WIRELESS

The London subway bombings showed that viewers just want information in whatever form they can get it. Therefore, low bit-rate MPEG will do in a pinch... At last year's CES, every major cell phone maker and wireless provider was represented, and there were a number of phones that allowed a user to edit video.

The quality of the cameras in these devices is growing rapidly. Three megapixels for stills and one for video is pretty standard. Also, Final Cut Pro and Apple support 3GP, one of the most common compression methods used for cell phone video. Shoot on a cell phone and edit on a Macbook... a pretty low-cost ENG kit.

The are also quite a number of wireless broadband cards that will plug into a laptop and give you rates up to 1 mbps for uploads. This is on the new Sprint Powervision network.

Windows Media at 1 megabit looks pretty amazing.

While I am not advocating these tools for everyday use, you should certainly consider adding them to your content gathering toolkit. As competition increases, you will need every tool available to produce cost-effective content that will retain viewers.

CONSUMER BEHAVIOR

Careful examination of the offerings in the consumer electronics marketplace will provide great insights into how viewers consume media. By understanding how consumers use the devices, we all will be better able to develop and implement technologies that will support the distribution of programming to these platforms.

The days of a viewer sitting in front of their television to watch the 5, 6 and 11 o'clock newscasts are fewer and fewer. Those of us who accept this and develop ways to deliver programming when, where and how the consumer wants to consume it will go far.


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