Mixed Signals

With A Little Help From My Friends

2/07/2012 5:17 AM

At the 2011 CES in Las Vegas, I wrote for Multichannel News about four Ts: tablets, talks, travel, and thin TVs. The tablets and thin TVs topic was the obvious burgeoning development of these set of stunning new contraptions that bring dreams to life. Travel was a frustration with the difficulty getting from A to B in Sin City, and all the time wasted doing that. And the talks were a reminder of what some pretty bright industry (and outside the industry) folks can teach us about our industry.

This year, for a bit of variety and perspective, I asked three long term industry analyst/observers/loyalists/ participants,  to chime in a bit on several of their top level observations concerning the 2012 CES Show in Las Vegas.

Arlen Assesses
Three-decade CES veteran, and telecom/media convergence analyst Gary Arlen, of Arlen Communications, LLC,  and author of MCN’s “As I Was Saying” blog, captured some of what I sense in the years and decades ahead: how the technocrats behind it all are going to manage the ever-growing demand for more pipes that can deliver more bits, faster and faster.

Arlen noted that this dilemma faces not only the broadcast over-the-air (OTA) players, but the broadband providers in general. “Fitness, health, wireless, machine-to-machine, contacts, etc., they all require wireless spectrum, and many assume that bandwidth will be available at a reasonable cost, but no one knows just yet,” Arlen aptly predicted.

Contrary to that lack of bandwidth concern was the proliferation of new content, especially niche content (which, of course, will amp up the need for more bandwidth). Indeed, even if they do not represent 24/7 telecast opportunities, new business models are developing to support more and more of these specialized programs for these specialized audiences.

Another technical development that caught Arlen’s imagination was that of the new level of TV quality, this time in the form of the new 4K TVs. 4K TVs are a next step up, being explored intensely by the ESPN’s of the world, and already being planned for coverage of the 2012 London Summer Olympics, to be held for the third time in modern history, this time July 22-August 12, in the U.K.’s # 1 urban center.

The Venetian Hotel venue offered a relatively novel theme of “CE Green,” which was another way of having ones and zeros in the form of bandwidth, replace the thousands of symbols on paper that means cutting down trees. Like Arlen, I see a lot of this topic filling out more and more future CES Shows. Currently, a small handful of good-sized CE Green exhibits were a refreshing comparison to the plethora of audio, photo and other displays there.

And finally, I liked what he said about the optimism of not just CES abut of the economy going into 2012. It’s going to get better. The 153,000+ turn-out was part of that, yet somewhat dampened by the bankruptcy of industry stalwart Kodak, and the troubles of Best Buy.

Costello Collects
Editor of the respected and relied-upon newsletter, CE ONline News, Marge Costello, comes at the CE industry from a slightly different angle, i.e., that of someone who has intensely studied the CE manufacturers for decades, and often knows more about them than they know about themselves.

Like Arlen and me, Costello also was impressed by the uptake of maybe 10% over last year’s 140,000+ attendee number. She expressed some concern for the decision by one-time important tenant, Microsoft, to withdraw from the 2013 CES show, although she suspects the CES show will remain viable, with other exhibitors and keynote speakers filling the Gates and Balmer spots of past years.

Indeed, for example, new opportunities appear to abound for folks such as Dish’s new CEO/president, industry veteran and the much-respected former CES chair and Sirius CEO Joe Clayton. Dish took unique advantage of the Monday press day to unveil its new Kangaroo-themed “Hopper” set-top box and “Joey” multiroom side car devices, which attracted a remarkable sum of press and attendee coverage throughout the show.

My personal view: Having seen what it saw in 2012, Microsoft may very well reconsider its decision to abandon CES. After all, what’s that wise old Chinese adage, “A Wise Man Changes His Mind Often, A Fool Never”?

Costello also noted some irony from the fact that although Microsoft announced its departure, overall CES numbers were up, and there apparently is already strong interest in obtaining the booth space that Microsoft relinquished in the Central Hall. And what kind of companies might be invited to speak in the place of Mr. Balmer next year? Costello predicts one of the larger social networking types of companies.

Costello opined the topic receiving the most press this year was the TV. “What we saw at the show is that when we have the smart OLED TVs working with the all the new apps, it is very clear the TV has won.” Indeed, in a related note, Costello noted that CNET this year gave the Product of the Show Award to LG’s OLED TV. And she predicted a growing trend: the tablet and the TV become friends. Further, like FCC chairman Julius Genachowski, Costello noted that an overwhelming number of devices on the show floor are now connected to and operated by the Internet, further stressing the importance of this miraculous communications tool.

Finally, of particular note, I thought in terms of improving what already works, Costello aptly compared the Berlin, Germany-based Internationale Funkausstellung Berlin (IFA) show and its set-up to the annual Las Vegas CES Show. Her observation was that IFA’s booths are generally designed and constructed more appropriately to allow more deal-making on site, something important that has been a challenge for CES in the past. I have always been impressed with people who not only can ID a problem, but also provide a positive, constructive solution.

Mather Multiplies
Steve Mather is a one-time Wall Street analyst turned industry analyst now working as a senior analyst for Denver-based IHS. Steve’s specialty is to act as something of a research “concierge,” serving up market intelligence data and insights on a weekly basis to fit the personal needs of Tech-Media-Telecom (TMT) executives.

For Mather, 2012 CES meant a great opportunity for companies like Intel to place front and center their new “Ultrabooks” (which he described as incredibly thin, light, and powerful handheld notebooks). Mather went one step further to predict that in the future these “Ultrabooks will be a major category of the mobile PC industry, morphing one day into the domain currently held by tablets.”

Another major trend Mather and IHS see is that of wireless video connectivity in home will be commonplace, demonstrating links between the PC, and TV, via WiFi. “This low cost solution will deliver high benefits to
consumers and high profits to retailers, and change the way se access and share content on any device (and with no cloud required).”

Final Figures
Being in the research and data business, I always like to spend a small sum of time tracking a few figures, if nothing else to put it some of it into perspective.

One figure our guests repeated above was that of the 153,000+ CES 2012 attendees, centered around the five or six major halls/venues that make up CES Vegas and the LVCC, Hilton, Venetian, and Renaissance. Although impressive, I have attended CeBIT conferences in the early 2000s in Hannover, Germany, claiming nearly 800,000 total visitors, filling 22 halls, many the size of the LVCC’s biggest Central Hall.

Looking deeper into 2012 and beyond, CES predicts 2012 overall CE revenues will pass $200 billion, a 3.7% increase over the $196 billion from 2011.

CE further predicts laptops, tablet and smart phones will lead that charge to those new revenues. 3DTVs are predicted by experts such as CEA’s top researcher, Steve Koenig, to double (although The Carmel Group sees that increase even being higher), and internet-connected TV’s will also see bright spots ahead, as well.

Jimmy Schaeffler is chairman and CSO of Carmel-by-the-Sea-based consultancy, The Carmel Group (www.carmelgroup.com).