CES Celebrates Golden Anniversary

50th confab to showcase connectivity, VR, content and policy
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LAS VEGAS—For its 50th anniversary, the Consumer Technology Association’s annual CES will focus on the airwaves. Unlike the debut 1967 CES in New York, however, where black-and-white TV sets, stereos and transistor radios were in the spotlight, the 2017 edition (Jan. 5-8 in Las Vegas) will see a greater emphasis on broadband wireless use of airwaves. And while hundreds of TV and video products and services will be on display, this doesn’t appear to be a “breakthrough” year for new technology, although there will be countless updates of the fast-selling 4K UHD TV devices plus advances in high dynamic range (HDR) video, wide color gamut, virtual reality and internet-connected smart TVs. Artificial Intelligence (AI), a building block for autonomous vehicles and other systems, will also be widely seen at exhibits and in private viewing suites.

In today’s tenuous political climate, CES is expanding its “Innovation Policy” conference, where Federal Communications Commission and Federal Trade Commission members will explain the Washington viewpoint—even though some of them will soon not be calling the shots while the presidential transition is in still in effect.

Karen Chupka, senior vice president of CTA and overseer of CES, believes that “TV is still the centerpiece” of the show, however, the focus has shifted to non-broadcast services.

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CTA President Gary Shapiro (L) and Karen Chupka, senior vice president of CTA and overseer of CES, at last month’s CES Unveiled event in New York.

“As people are watching content from streaming 4K players and other sources, they want to be in that TV atmosphere,” Chupka said, referring to the continuing appeal of the large-screen flat panel receiver versus handheld video displays. She added that the “quest for better sound ties into the advanced video environment,” pointing to the new High Resolution Audio exhibits plus other entertainment features that are still a major part of CES.

“The continued access to content, even on different platforms, [affects] how much is being generated and also the next generation of viewers,” Chupka said, during a 2017 CES preview event in New York last month.

ATTRACTING NEW MARKETS

CES (no longer called the “Consumer Electronics Show” by CTA, which itself was previously known as the Consumer Electronics Association), has accelerated its efforts to bring program producers and advertisers/marketers into the mix. “C Space” conferences and exhibits will focus on content development, including collaborations between tech and advertising/marketing companies. As part of that program, “The Entertainment Summit,”on Friday afternoon will examine creativity including the types of production technologies emerging for film, gaming and TV shows, as well as multiplatform content.

CES has also become a meeting place for dozens of media-connected groups. Gatherings of the National Association of Broadcasters’ TV Technology and Radio Technology Committees have “become a tradition over the past few years as broadcasters’ attendance at CES has increased,” an NAB spokesperson told TV Technology. The Advanced Television Systems Committee, Cable Television Labs and CTAM: the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing will again bring groups to CES for show floor tours and for meetings with business and technical prospects and partners.

Among nearly 40 ancillary events surrounding CES in Las Vegas is the annual International Conference on Consumer Electronics (ICCE) on Jan. 8-10, produced by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, featuring presentations by electronics designers and engineers. Sessions will look at technical aspects of ATSC 3.0, cloud computing, “the road to the ultimate virtual reality,” mixed reality, 3D body processing and “technology accelerating the immersive consumer experience.”

Team Lightbulb's “Broadband Conference”on Wednesday will examine “intelligent transportation,” 5G, fiber and Internet of Things (IoT) and promises to look at “Next Gen broadcasting and broadband IP integration,” ATSC 3.0 and FirstNet wireless broadband public safety network.

“Sports Business Innovation,” a conference presented by Turner Sports on Thursday and Friday as part of the C Space agenda, will focus on ways that technology is being used to alter the sports business landscape. Speakers will look at new tactics that affect the sports industry.

FOR POLICY WONKS

At an opening afternoon SuperSession, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Edith Ramirez are scheduled to chat individually (30 minutes each) with CTA's President/CEO Gary Shapiro about the challenges their agencies face, even as both of them prepare to leave their seats.

Later that day at an Innovation Policy conference session entitled "2017 Preview: FCC and FTC Commissioner Roundtable," other commissioners will discuss "critical regulatory and policy issues, including: spectrum allocation, privacy, accessibility, the Internet of Things, regulatory reform, disruptive innovation and technological convergence." At press time, FCC Commissioner Mike O'Rielly and FTC Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen (thre presumptive agency chairman after the Trump transition) are confirmed participants, with the FCC;s Mignon Clyburn, The FTC's Terrell McSweeny and possibly others expected to join them.

Other sessions on the Innovation Policy agenda (spread out over Thursday, Friday and Saturday) will involve government officials and tech entrepreneurs examining regulatory implications of topics such as the IoT, virtual and augmented reality, mobility and sustainability.

FOCUS ON 5G

Although exhibitors continue in their tradition of keeping their product introduction news close to the vest until the show opening, the CES keynotes are a good harbinger of what will be the hot topics in the conference rooms and on the exhibit floors in Las Vegas.

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At the pre-opening keynote on Wednesday night, nVidia President/CEO/Founder Jen-Hsun Huang is expected to focus on the chipmaker’s visions for AI, VR, smart cars and other applications.

The show’s six major keynotes include presentations from Qualcomm CEO Steve Mollenkopf about the “revolutionary effect of 5G” and from Huawei Consumer Business Group CEO Richard Yu, who will focus on mobile technologies and their ability to integrate artificial intelligence, virtual reality and connected systems. At the pre-opening keynote on Wednesday night, nVidia President/CEO/Founder Jen-Hsun Huang is expected to focus on the chipmaker’s visions for AI, VR, smart cars and other applications.

SuperSessions, such as the Thursday's “Stoked on 5G” program, will delve deeper into high speed wireless services, including a presentation by Ericsson Senior Vice President/Chief Technology OfficerUlf Ewaldsson.

“We’re seeing the continued trend toward connectivity, with sensors being built into every device,” said Chupka, whose official title is CTA senior vice president for CES & Corporate Business Strategy. She also points to the growth of VR applications and “expects to see a lot more, not just gaming content.” For example, Fox is expected to announce new VR ventures.

Chupka extolled the need for long-term visions as ever more content is being generated and “as viewers grow up, there will be different trends.”

“As you try to scale some of these things up, it’s a matter of quality,” she added. She also noted the migration of vendors into new categories, for example Sony’s participation in the “Augmented Reality Marketplace.” one of about 20 focused zones/pavilions where small and large companies showcase new products in evolving categories. Other marketplaces range from the new “Sleep Place” (dealing with health/sleep technologies) to drones and cybersecurity.

CES BY THE NUMBERS

According to Chupka, CTA is “trying to cap attendance” at 165,000, although she admitted that a final body count may approach the 176,000 attendees who came to the 2016 CES. About 3,800 exhibitors will show their wares, equivalent to the number in the past few years, on 2.4 million square feet of floor space spread over three major venues: Tech East (the Las Vegas Convention Center, Westgate Hotel (formerly Hilton) and adjacent properties; Tech West (Sands Expo Center and Venetian Hotel) and Tech South (Aria Hotel and nearby hotels, home of C Space). (Demand for space should ease up once the Las Vegas Convention Center completes a $1.4 billion expansion that is expected to be complete by 2023).

Chupka noted that in the shifting technology environment, a growing number of exhibitors will showcase emerging technologies such as robotics, wearables, augmented and virtual reality, entertainment/content, drones and driverless technology. She also pointed out that “Eureka Park,” an area at the Venetian Hotel for start-up companies will have 600 exhibitors, mostly in 10-by-10-foot booths, a 20 percent increase from the previous show and nearly triple the number of start-ups as five years ago, when Eureka Park debuted.

THE MOOD

CES will open just after the holiday shopping season, which often sets the mood for retailers and distributors attending the show. In its pre-holiday estimate, CTA expected that 4.5 million 4K UHD television sets would be sold this season, bringing the 2016 total sales of UHD receivers to 10 million. That’s 40 percent more than in 2015, with sales moving far faster than HDTV sets sold during their first years on the market at the turn of this century.

Nonetheless, CTA’s sales forecasts for 2017 show modest growth for the flat-panel TV category: about $19.7 billion in U.S. wholesale sales compared to $19.5 billion in 2016. About 20 million 4K UHD sets will be sold in 2017, according to CTA estimates.

Overall, sales in CTA’s five largest categories are expected to decline slightly in 2017, including a $2 billion drop in smartphone sales, about half-billion dollars falloff in tablet sales plus small declines in laptop and desktop computer sales. Those top five categories will still represent 49 percent of total industry sales of $225.1 billion in 2017 compared to 45 percent of $224.9 billion total sales this year.

CTA's 2017 forecast indicates that the fastest growth will come from new categories such as a quadrupling of sales of VR/AR eyeware, which will jump from $32 million in 2016 to nearly $1.1 billion in 2017 and a doubling in 360-degree cameras from $31 million to $65 million year-to-year sales.

“Without these [new] categories, industry growth would be negative,” according to the CTA report. “It stands to reason these products as well as future products will continue to grow the industry as household ownership of several product categories reach their maximum penetration.”

CTA President/CEO Gary Shapiro pointed out, “manufacturers are introducing an increasing variety of 4K UHD displays at a range of price points. Many of these displays include new innovations like HDR wide color gamut that make the viewing experience more immersive.”

THE HISTORY

To celebrate its 50th anniversary, CES will honor long-time exhibitors. Panasonic is the only vendor that has exhibited in all 50 consecutive CES shows. Thirty-seven companies have had booths for more than 40 years; 10 of them were at the 1967 premier event (which had 117 exhibitors and 17,500 attendees) and will also have booths in Las Vegas next month. They include 3M, Lenovo, Memorex (now MEM-CE), Philips, Sharp, Sony, Toshiba, Voxx International and Westinghouse.

THE CONTENT CONNECTION

“C Space,” an enlarged content-oriented conference and exhibit area formerly known as “Entertainment Matters,” will be based at Tech South in the Aria Hotel. Programs there will include “C Space Storytellers Sessions,” the long-running Digital Hollywood conference and “Marketing Reinvented” presented by MediaLink.

The annual Digital Hollywood conference, at sessions spread over Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, will examine topics such as hybrid TV, over-the-top and second-screen content, as well as immersive VR, Contextual and 360⁰ Video Advertising and Internet TV, including multichannel network programming.

At a short conference on “The Continuing Rise of Short Form Video,” on Friday morning, NATPE and CTA will unveil results of their latest research on the adoption of YouTube and other short videos.

“Virtual Reality: The Future is 360,”is a three-session conference on Thursday at which technology and production experts will examine consumer and business applications of VR.

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Aisha Tyler

To serve as liaison between Hollywood and the tech community, CTA has appointed Aisha Tyler as this year’s “CES Ambassador.” Tyler, an actress, director, author and comedian, hosts CBS’ “The Talk” and is a regular performer on the CBS series “Criminal Minds,” as well as an active gamer and self-described tech enthusiast. She is also the creator and host of the “Girl on Guy” podcast and just directed her first movie.

“Aisha has torn down barriers for women and diversity in technology, effortlessly integrated and encouraged the use of tech in everyday life and redefined what it means to be a ‘gamer,’” Chupka said.

Tyler explained that, “As a podcaster, author, producer and filmmaker, I can attest to how technology has not only made my life better, but more creatively robust, dynamic and productive in every way. Technological innovation is my artistic secret weapon."

Chupka expects that CES stages and show floor will continue to be peppered with celebrity appearances, including “a lot of surprises this year.”

“We’re seeing non-traditional companies taking a presence because they see themselves in the tech space,” she concluded.

For more information on the 2017 CES, visit www.ces.tech.

For the latest news on 2017 CES, visit our sister publication and publisher of the official CES Daily, TWICE.