01/10/16: CYNOPSIS MEDIA Presents: CES 2016 WRAP UP



A smartphone that can measure the height of your ceiling…a toothbrush/video game controller…a scooter that can see in dark. The 2016 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week did not disappoint gadget lovers (unless they balked at paying $9,800 for a self-cleaning toilet), but between Sling TV’s new interface, Scripps’ new studios and Netflix taking over the world, the four-day event had the media industry covered, too.  
Cynopsis was there, too, of course, hosting The Tech Futures Suite together with GK Digital Media and MyersBizNet; the suite was sponsored by Active International, Jun Group, BRaVe Media Ventures and Vizbee. Michael Wolf, founder of NextMarket Insights, told the packed penthouse, “The smart home hub is on its way. Samsung’s SmartThings integration signals a huge strategic investment.” Also look for innovation in the kitchen specifically, featuring everything from robotic mixology to smart meat thermometers. While gesture control was big in the tech space last year, momentum this year has shifted to voice control.
Consumer Technology Association chief Gary Shapiro opened this year’s event at the Las Vegas Convention Center with a call for less government intervention and greater freedom for market innovation. “What we’re up against is old rules that impede innovation,” he said. “Our job at CTA is to defend disruptive industries. We need governments to let the marketplace work.” Shapiro said the consumer technology industry – expected to hit $287 billion in US sales this year – will advance innovations in drones, self-driving cars and facial recognition only if regulators balance the need for privacy with enterprise stimulation. “There are always those who only see how the bad guys use technology to threaten our privacy. Of course there will always be bad guys, but I believe technology can help us fight back and protect us.”


Virtual reality is a game changer, according to a study from the Consumer Technology Association and NATPE that was presented during a panel session at CES. Assessing Hollywood’s attitude toward the nascent technology, the joint study acknowledged hurdles like monetization and the endurance cap for sustained viewing, but concluded VR is not just a fad; it’s “an entirely new platform for consumers to experience entertainment and many other types of content.”
Sessions at the Tech Futures Suite echoed the call. Noted NextVR Executive Chairman Brad Allen, “Mobile VR will be massive.” The Coca-Cola company, acknowledged Ariff Quli, Blippar’s North American Chief Commercial Officer, is a brand that really gets the capabilities of VR. “We had a Coke can turn into a jukebox, with a daily playlist.” Still, said Mike Bloxham of Frank R. Magid Associates, “We have not had that aha moment, where everyone says, “’That’s how it should be done.’”
Twentieth Century Fox debuted The Martian VR Experience, a 20-minute virtual reality journey to the Red Planet, designed to let users confront challenges similar to those faced by Matt Damon’s character in 2015’s The Martian. The experience was reserved for journos at CES, but later this year, it will debut on the Oculus Rift, the HTC Vive, and the Playstation VR.


Netflix is turning on its service in an additional 130 countries, including India, Nigeria, Russia, South Korea and Vietnam; the company said it expects to land in China, too. “In China, you need specific permission from the government to operate, so we are continuing to work on that and we are patient,” said Netflix CEO Reed Hastings. Hastings and Ted Sarandos also pulled back the curtain with first looks at two new 2016 dramas: Queen Elizabeth II saga The Crown reunites Peter Morgan (The Queen) with director Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot) and Andy Harries (The Queen). Series stars Claire Foy as QEII, Matt Smith, John Lithgow and Victoria Hamilton. Baz Lurhmann’s The Get Down fuses hip-hop, disco and punk as the backdrop to a coming of age story set in NY. Declaring that “the technology is here. It’s the business models that stand in the way. That’s the reason we decided to do original programming,” Sarandos said customers can expect 600-plus hours of original programming this year. “We love stories of all sorts – highbrow, lowbrow, funny. We have that luxury to explore them thanks to the Internet,” he said. “We can commit to publishing books rather than chapters.” Fast fact from Hastings: During Q415, people watched 12 billion hours of Netflix, up from 8.25 billion in 4Q14.
Netflix stars who took the stage for the company’s event added sizzle, if not tech savvy. Jessica JonesKrysten Ritter suggested inventing a hoverboard “that doesn’t blow up,” while Chelsea Handler said she runs her house from an iPad, but if she tries to turn on the TV, “the microwave goes off. It’s a mess.” Wagner Moura (Narcos) just hoped “we’re not going to be replaced by robots.”


NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke acknowledged eroding ratings, saying, “We need to start getting better at distributing our product on the Internet, getting better at creating new Internet businesses” (hence the company’s significant investments in BuzzFeed and Vox Media, and recent launch of Seeso). But the idea that digital will supplant the TV business, “I don’t buy,” said Burke. “If you’re a marketer, it’s unthinkable when you’re making a big product announcement that you don’t use TV…TV advertising will be growing for many, many years.”
Brands are looking for ways to more authentically connect with consumers, but as yet there’s no clear technology that will get them there, Jason Jercinovic, president, Havas Worldwide, said on a CES panel, Hollywood and the Digital Consumer. “Advertisers are trying to find out how to connect with consumers,” he said. “We’ve seen a lot of experimentation with new technologies and are looking at how to dip our toes into alternate reality with brands, but we’ve not seen any breakaway success that’s awesome yet.” Added Brandon Berger, Chief Digital Officer, Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, “Public companies are seeing a lot more pressure to come up with content solutions to engage with customers in digital ways. For a lot of our clients, their customers are spending more time in digital so they’re spending more of their resources there.”


Despite the buzz around cord-cutting, execs at CES said traditional and OTT realms are working together quite well. “The hybrid TV/OTT model is rapidly growing,” said Ian Greenblatt, VP, strategy and business development, Arris. “It’s not a zero sum game.” In fact, 2016 will be “the year of shakeout of what the OTT experience looks like,” said Mark Ramberg, VP, business development at Akamai. “Right now it’s being driven by consumer expectations. They’re hearing about OTT, they’re excited about the experience. But it’s not that great yet.” While NBC has already begun wading into OTT waters, Tennis Channel head of digital media Adam Ware predicted the other broadcasters will follow suit this year with hybrid offerings. “It’s only a matter of time before we see CBS, Univision, ABC getting into the OTT space,” he said.
Increase in scope of OTT content, good. Discoverability and sampling of said content, not so much. “The problem is sampling,” said Josette Bonte, chief strategy officer at CTM: Institute for Communication Technology Management. “It’s like Spotify vs radio. Spotify is pretty cool if you know what you want to listen to. The tech is getting smarter, the metadata is getting smarter, but I worry about the sampling.” Gen Edge and other younger demos “find out what to watch by doing a Google search first. The fact that the search is not on the front end of the [service] is mind-boggling.” Once sampling improves, customers can see what a given service has to offer. “Most people don’t realize with these large offerings, the 50,000-title libraries, only about 5 percent of those are movies,” said Brendan Sullivan, EVP, global operations and technology at Vubiquity. “A lot of it is television going back nine, 10 seasons. The mix of alternate niche content is forcing the shift in unbundling and business models; to differentiate you’re going to have to have some innovative niche content.”
“Digital will win the decade,” said Robert Kyncl. “I don’t think digital video will grow linearly; I think it will grow exponentially.” YouTube’s chief business officer stuck with the prediction that digital formats will make up 75 percent of total viewing by 2020.
In case there was anyone still wearing rose-colored glasses about financial margins in today’s digital market, Laura Martin, managing director at Needham & Co., offered some sobering numbers. Speaking about her client WWE, Martin noted the programmer to date has drawn 7 billion digital views, the majority of it short form content on YouTube, and for the last year has earned $7 million from digital. “There’s no money in digital,” she said. “Unless you have the powerful economic machine of television, you’re losing money today.”


If you want your viewers’ living room lights to dim while they watch romantic content, you’re in luck. The Connected Living Room session at the Tech Futures Suite featured an enticing carousel of items that will soon be “connected” in the home, from ovens to doorbells and more. “We need devices that talk to each other,” says Parks Associate Research Analyst Glenn Hower. “Right now, a lot of them don’t, which is stifling adoption.” One product that doesn’t have that issue is Amazon’s Echo, the wireless speaker and voice command device. But Charlie Kindel, Director, Amazon Echo & Alexa, is well aware of the issues the Connected Home is facing. “People aren’t clear about the value proposition,” he said. “We explain to customers that we want to enrich their lives and solve problems.”
Side note: In a little unexpected hover board drama on the CES show floor, U.S. federal marshals hauled off a one-wheeled skateboard on display at Chinese Changzhou First International Trade’s booth. The raid of assets and marketing material was instigated by Silicon Valley startup Future Motion, which said it had invented and patented a board, including a reversible light system that glows in different colors, remarkably like the confiscated “Surfing Electric Scooters.”


Dish announced the Hopper 3, a TV receiver that can record 16 shows at once with room to store 500 hours of high-definition video, as well as portable HopperGo, a battery-powered device that can hold 100 hours of programming. Also on the menu: Sling TV’s rollout of a new interface, MyTV, that predicts what programming would appeal to a viewer based on past viewing. And Sling now includes ESPN3 in the channel guide, adding “thousands” of events to EPSN and ESPN2 offerings.
Chris McCown, VP, video product management, Scripps Networks Interactive, said the company’s recent launch of the millennials-focused Scripps Lifestyle Studios sprouted largely from the success of its Food Network content partnership with Snapchat. “Millennials are a huge focus for us,” he said. “The crossover is already happening. Bobby Flay and his daughter did a piece on Snapchat Discovery Channel, and Alton Brown did a takeover of the channel for a day.”
Nat Geo’s upcoming Story of God, starring Morgan Freeman addressing religion around the world, will debut with complementary digital programming aimed at both pushing viewers to living room viewing and serving as stand-alone content. The digital sidebar features “a bunch of people in a bar-like setting talking about concepts and that’s something you can watch on the small screen,” said Brad Dancer, EVP, research & programming planning. “You don’t have to watch the actual show and can still get a good sense of it.”
During a keynote Q&A, Ryan Seacrest, just starting American Idol’s fifteenth and final season, acknowledged, “It’s always tough to break through” with audiences today, “but there are now so many platforms on which to do so. You do need a full court press across platforms. And you need to be ferocious about it.”

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