Extremely Loud and Incredibly So-So: As Much about Timberlake as Tech Innovation, the Consumer Electronics Show Made Lots of Noise, Little News

By Ha, Anthony | ADWEEK, January 16, 2012 | Go to article overview

Extremely Loud and Incredibly So-So: As Much about Timberlake as Tech Innovation, the Consumer Electronics Show Made Lots of Noise, Little News


Ha, Anthony, ADWEEK


It is well established that the annual International Consumer Electronics Show is among the biggest, busiest, noisiest of industry meet-ups, last week drawing some 140,000 attendees plus 3,100 exhibitors--the most ever--to that otherwise sleepy little desert town of Las Vegas. Perhaps the only thing about this year's CES that wasn't big, in fact, was the news.

Gadget makers mostly trucked out devices--some 20,000 of them--that were simply updated versions of existing products, and no major new technology was unveiled. The disappointing dearth of actual innovation at this year's CES was hinted at during a panel discussion dubbed "Argue the Future," in which Josh Topolsky, editor of Vox Media's tech site The Verge, interviewed reps from Microsoft, HTC and Samsung. Speaking of the smartphone industry, where too often manufacturers flood the market with models that offer mere tweaks rather than real advancement, Topolsky asked: "Are we trying to create demand where there isn't any?"

Yet, there was some genuine excitement last week. Attendees buzzed about a new lineup of television sets featuring OLED and 4K technology (see sidebar). On the media front, the flailing social network Myspace, which Specific Media last year bought from News Corp., announced (with the aid of investor Justin Timberlake) that it's getting into the TV business with Myspace TV. Yahoo hawked an animated Web series, Electric City, co-produced by Tom Hanks.

Celebrities have become as much a story at CES as any technology unveiled there. Justin Bieber made an appearance, as did Will.i.am. LL Cool J was on hand to promote his music-centric social network, while 50 Cent showed off his brand new line of headphones.

The show has also famously become a hot ticket for media and marketing types. Even the topic of one of the keynotes was the growing presence of ranking marketing execs. In that speech, MediaLink CEO Michael Kassan noted that companies no longer send "low-level corporate scouts" to report back to their bosses. "These are the bosses," he said--specifically, the CMOs of many large brands. It would stand to reason, seeing that CES is not just about gadgets, he added, but about "how people buy a car, read a book, get a date, get a job."

To drive home the point, Kassan brought CMOs and marketing veeps from Walmart, Unilever, AT&T, General Electric and Hyundai Motor America on stage, as well as Facebook vp of global marketing solutions Carolyn Everson, who said if there were one overarching theme of this year's CES, it was connection, "whether it's to human beings or devices." As that trend continues, Everson said, we're going to see fewer manufacturers who think only about "their own closed ecosystem," adding, "I think we're going to see the need for much more collaboration across manufacturers with marketers than ever before."

Despite the absence of major launches, this year still represented a significant step forward for the event, said BBDO Worldwide CEO Andrew Robertson, attending his first CES. "The big shift between what one might have seen here three years ago and what you see today is that three years ago it was all about the promise of connectivity," Robertson told Adweek. "Today, it's there" (see sidebar).

To be sure, CES regulars going into this year's show had already heard all about Internet-connected TVs, cars and refrigerators. But now those innovations are becoming more of a reality for consumers.

One panel discussion had the likes of HBO technology chief Robert Zitter and ESPN vp of strategic planning and development Bryan Burns musing about whether, after all the hype, 3-D TV was finally about to break through. As Burns pointed out, it also took a while for consumers to fully embrace HDTV.

Microsoft and Nokia, which have been talking about their partnership for nearly a year, are finally bringing Nokia devices with the Windows Phone operating system to the U. …

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