Gary Arlen /
12.06.2006 12:00 AM
CES Celebrates 40 Years of Technology
Special to TV Technology

LAS VEGAS


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With an estimated 150,000 people cruising more than 2,000 exhibits spread over an area equivalent to 30 football fields, even Karen Chupka admits that the International Consumer Electronics Show can become "cumbersome." As the Consumer Electronics Association's senior vice president of events and conferences, Chupka oversees an extravaganza that has exploded beyond its radio/record-player/TV roots into a gargantuan multiple media phenomenon.

Next month's 40th annual cornucopia of electronic sensations (CES) has even lured an array of "outside" events, such as the Television Academy's Technology & Engineering Emmy Awards ceremony and a cable TV executives' board of directors meetings--adding to the throngs (and taxi lines, too).

The official CES agenda for Jan. 8-11, 2007, in Las Vegas includes more than 140 conference sessions, many of them dealing with the DTV transition and competitive media services such as IPTV and the emerging role of portable media devices to view TV programs. There will be new face-offs in the Blu-ray versus HD-DVD format war, plus dueling pronouncements about the role of expanded videogame platforms. And, "direct from the labs" presentations (at least in secretive hotel suites) are likely for new display technologies and processing chips, although details were not available at presstime.

CEA notoriously adds high-profile presenters at the last moment. Many of the business bigwigs traditionally bring show-biz celebrities to showcase the content that runs on their technology platforms. Among the confirmed featured speakers are CBS President and CEO Les Moonves, Walt Disney Co. President and CEO Robert Iger, Yahoo! cofounder Jerry Yang, Motorola CEO and Chairman Ed Zander and Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates.

An opening-day session on "Pipelines" underscores the convergence of technology and media/telecommunications, featuring top executives from satellite, cable and phone companies. Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt, DirecTV CEO Chase Carey, EchoStar Communications CEO Charlie Ergen and Verizon President Virginia Reusterholz will be asked to discuss their partnership plans and strategies for delivering digital video services.

Despite the avalanche of information and sales strategies that flow from such presentations, Chupka insists that at CES, "The floor is the major attraction."

"More and more people look at the show as an indicator of future trends," she says, citing the growing "migration of the content world" into CES activities.

BIG IN EVERY SENSE

Aside from CES's sheer scale (1.75 million square feet of exhibit space, about 60,000 square feet more than 2006), the trade show's essence remains the size and range of its offerings. CES '07 occupies about 50 percent more floor space than the 2002 show--demonstrating the number of new entrants and the technologies, including components and services that are vying for attention in the consumer electronics business.

Some of the growth--and competitive aggression--is measured in tiny increments. At presstime, it was not known whether the upcoming show will feature a battle of the "inches" as did the 2006 CES, when Samsung, Panasonic and other plasma TV makers literally "one"-upped each other by unveiling 102-inch and 103-inch HD monitors.

Early indications suggest that manufacturers will focus on mainstream DTV equipment to encourage sales as prices fall and the 2009 analog cutoff deadline approaches. For example, the RCA brand will introduce an extensive range of LCD TV sets with dual HDMI and dual component and PC connections. In its Scenium series, RCA will unveil models ranging from 26- to 46-inch screens with advanced picture processing, enhanced dynamic control, dual HDMI and SRS TruSurround XT audio processing.

Westinghouse Digital will show LCD HDTV sets ranging from 19- to 52-inches, including new combination HDTV sets with integrated DVD players. The company will also showcase its 1080p monitors with integrated ATSC/NTSC/QAM tuners. Its high-end models include dynamic contrast of up to 6,000:1 contrast ratio.

Sony, Philips, Toshiba and other global TV manufacturers--including a growing roster of Chinese suppliers--will show comparable products. In addition, several companies, including RCA and LG Electronics, are expected to display prototypes of the set-top box converters that enable current analog TV sets to display DTV broadcasts. Initial pricing information may be available, although manufacturers will make those decisions closer to CES's opening day.

NEXT GEN SERVICES

Mobility, portability and related attributes of the new video environment are expected to play a growing role at this CES. For example, MediaFLO, the Qualcomm venture that will debut in early 2007, will showcase its recently announced alliance with Verizon Wireless to carry mobile TV content.

"We are a little broader than we've been in previous years," Chupka said, singling out the expanded emphasis on "cross-platform" companies. "We're trying to touch on every technology in some way."

She points out that just a few years ago there were "all kinds of ideas about Internet TV and now people are making it." Hence, many exhibits--as well as several conference sessions--focus on various approaches to Internet television.

"Even consumers realize they are not tied to watching a show at a particular time and place," Chupka said.

Underscoring her point, and representative of a new slew of Internet content providers, is MediaZone, a San Francisco-based firm that will unveil "Social TV." Its backers call the online video service "disruptive to the traditional television business" by enabling the global distribution of new channels via the Internet. MediaZone's initial lineup includes sports, lifestyle and movie channels, although details are not yet available.

Video program developers are descending on CES in part because new devices--notably time-shifting, place-shifting technologies and Internet television--are changing TV consumption patterns. Chupka points to the new "Anytime Anywhere Tech Zone," sponsored by SlingMedia, as an example of the way in which CEA tries to make it easier for the thronged masses to find emerging products.

"We had some components of time-shifting in the past, but we decided to group it together and look at all mobility," Chupka said.

CABLE TV COMES ALONG

As CES blurs the lines across industry sectors, a synergy has developed--encouraging new delegations of visitors, who then attract vendors aiming for their business.

For example, CableLabs, the cable industry's research organization, expects to bring at least two dozen top cable officials to CES again this year, while CTAM (Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing) will shepherd about 75 marketing and programming executives through Las Vegas. Seeking to catch the eyes--and wallets--of those potential customers, several traditional cable TV suppliers are escalating their presence at CES.

For example, Motorola (already on hand for its wireless phones and other products) will unveil a new family of host set-top boxes that will give cable operators removable security solutions with functionality similar to current set-tops. The new boxes are designed to operate with multistream CableCARDs, which let consumers watch or record shows from multiple, simultaneous tuners using a single CableCARD.

Scientific-Atlanta, now part of Cisco Systems, will also be on hand again, as will Cisco CEO John Chambers, another keynoter. Cisco recently launched a consumer branding campaign, suggesting that the company's messages in Las Vegas will focus on its ability to integrate wired and wireless services via home networking products. Cisco's growing presence at CES, along with established computer-oriented firms such as Intel, Microsoft and Apple, further exemplifies the merging of electronics and computer technologies in the home.

Home networks and the tools to create them will permeate CES. Nearly a dozen conference sessions touch on some aspect of beaming video and data around the house.

Meanwhile, other urgent TV topics will be in the CES spotlight. A Tuesday after noon SuperSession, "Get Ready for the End of Analog TV," will focus on public policy and business factors during the next two years as the DTV countdown proceeds. The panel will include Washington officials, retail and media executives who will analyze issues ranging from the set-top converter coupon program to "must-carry" retransmission.

In keeping with the CES theme of "Content, Technology and Everything in Between," another SuperSession will focus on "Content and CE Partnerships: Breaking New Ground." Reflecting CEA's passion for "innovation" and the use of home video equipment for the production of original content, several sessions will focus on social networks and the fast-emerging world of "consumer-generated media."

Many exhibitors will introduce products that fit into that social networks' category. For example, Microsoft Networks will feature its "Soapbox on MSN Video," a user-uploaded video service. Soapbox will be available on MSN Video and will be deeply integrated throughout Microsoft's portfolio of online services.

CEA is also putting a bright spotlight on its "Innovations Plus" showcase, which will feature "the largest concentration of market-specific TechZones." These theme-focused clusters will concentrate on categories such as "Mobile and Personal Broadband," "Studio@Home," IPTV and collaborative groups such as the Digital Living Network Alliance.

NAVIGATING CES

Prompted by the growth of CES (and a few other mega-expositions), the Las Vegas Convention Center several years ago built additional floor space onto that mammoth structure. CES has already outgrown the expansion, so many of the keynote events and showcases will be based at the Sands Expo and Convention Center and conference halls of the adjacent Venetian Hotel.

Even though the venues are connected via nonstop shuttle bus service, Chupka and her CEA team recognize that visitors often can't find products and sessions. Among their solutions is a "SmartBiz CES Tool," an online service available via the CES Web site (www.cesweb.org/attendees/myces/default.asp) that lets attendees preplan their agenda, including searches for sessions, exhibits and schedules. This month, CEA is launching podcasts to help attendees search for sessions and products.

Chupka believes that these features help visitors discover what and whom to see before they get to Las Vegas and say, "I need to talk to those people."

Other groups are offering tools to help attendees--as well as people who eschew Las Vegas--to gauge what's hot at CES. For example, Nielsen BuzzMetrics, the word-of-mouth measurement firm, will track blogs and other commentaries about the show to spot the most "talked-about" products. The company notes that at last year's show, the top segments were home theater and video/gaming. Nielsen's study will also monitor buzz about brands, with all reports being sold after the show ends.

One adjustment for the 2007 CES is the Monday-through-Thursday cycle, a shift away from the Thursday-Sunday schedule of recent years. It is a change dictated by the post-holiday calendar, Chupka said, noting that the next two years will be on the weekday pattern.

Indeed, the post-holiday factor is inevitably built into the spirit of CES. Traditionally, if retailers come off a lively shopping season, the mood in Las Vegas is bubbly.

With HDTV sales expected to be strong this month, CES 2007 could stand for "Celebrating Extraordinary Sales."

To register for CES, visit www.cesweb.org.



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