Among the cutting-edge gear to be displayed at next month’s annual Consumer Electroncs Show in Las Vegas are Web-connected TV technology; mobile DTV developments; pro-sumer cameras and other production gear; as well as a two-day mini-conference on how to monetize new media and an appearance by new FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski.
From mobile video, to Web-connected TV, to 3-D HD, there will be plenty to interest broadcasters at the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show, Jan. 7-10, in Las Vegas.
CES is well known for offering up acres of cell phone holsters, remote controlled toasters and other odds and ends, but this year is shaping up to be a game-changer in the video space.
For starters, attendees can expect to find a wide range of Web-connected options — from TV sets to set-top boxes — that use the Internet to access streaming video and other video content and place them on the home’s big screen.
This technology isn’t new – it has been a CES staple for the past several years — but many analysts expect 2010 to be the year that Web interactivity really hits its stride.
“We’re very quickly going to see this technology getting to mainstream levels due to the sheer availability of products,” says Kurt Scherf, vice president and principal analyst with Dallas-based market research firm Parks Associates, which is hosting a side conference on consumer video trends at CES. “All of the major manufacturers are going to have at least one TV model that’s connected.”
Parks is estimating that 10 million connected TV sets will be sold worldwide in 2010, ramping up to 80 million by 2015. That amounts to about 10 percent of all HDTVs sold today and more than 60 percent in five years.
From there, it will just be a matter of getting the content distributors caught up with the hardware. This process has already begun in earnest in Europe, Scherf says, where low pay TV usage has led to an explosion in the popularity of streaming video.
“The main thrust right now for connected television is ,” Scherf says. “Everyone is working with the Hollywood studios and bringing that content to connected TVs as transactional-based services. The big question mark is whether we’ll see the broadcasters getting involved. Streaming Hulu to the TV would be the prime example, but so far that’s not happening.”
Megan Pollock with the Consumer Electronics Association agrees that just about every major manufacturer at CES will have a connected TV or two to announce. “It’s now what consumers are demanding,” she says, “so everyone’s going to have something available.
“We’re also going to see a lot of boxes being introduced also because someone who bought a new 50-inch LCD a couple of years ago probably is not going to go out and get a new TV just for these added features,” Pollock adds.
Case in point: Boxee’s new Web-to-TV box, manufactured by D-Link, will debut in Las Vegas with a wide-ranging “cancel your pay TV subscription” marketing campaign to go along with it.
Billed as the first “social media center,” the device will let users access a range of content from the Web, including video from MLB.TV, Comedy Central, Netflix and others, via its open source software platform. Boxee is pitching the service as free, but how much of the programming actually will be in the clear is unclear.
The real idea, according to Boxee, is to turn the living room TV into the hub of the user’s media universe – offering access to Twitter, Facebook and the like — and taking the computer out of the picture entirely if desired.
Expect the Boxee to find its way to market in the second half of 2010 when it will compete with the Apple TV and Microsoft’s various Windows Media Center devices.
And this appetite of streaming video is growing. According to CEA, 42 percent of computer users watched TV episodes online this year and 17 percent of online adults — or some 14.5 million consumers — are likely or very likely to buy an Internet-connected TV in the next 12 months.
The home theater space at this year’s show will feature the latest in 3-D, including new 3-D HD technologies from AMD and NVIDIA; TV sets and 3-D Blu-ray players from Panasonic, Sony, Samsung and others; and the new HDMI 1.4 connectivity standard.
Still, plain old HD is driving the set market. CEA says HD will account for more than 86 percent of the 36.5 million LCD sets expected to ship in 2010.
“There is still a lot of size debate going on with HD,” Pollock says. “It’s all about thinner, bigger, cheaper right now. A lot of manufacturers are thinking about what consumers are actually going to buy, even if it is just run-of-the-mill HD.”
Mobile video will also be big story at the show. And right in the middle of it all — literally — will be broadcasting’s own entry in mobile video: mobile DTV.
At the Mobile DTV TechZone, in the central hall of the Convention Center, the broadcast-backed Open Mobile Video Coalition will showcase a wide array of laptops, netbooks, smart phones, in-car screens and dongles, all capable to receiving mobile DTV based on the new ATSC standard.
To make the devices come alive, OMVC has arranged for Las Vegas TV stations and a Harris transmission facility to broadcast 17 mobile DTV signals. The channels will include simulcasts of most of the market’s broadcast affiliates as well as cable networks including MSNBC and Fox News.
In terms of mobile video, Verizon launched a new Media Manager feature for its V Cast service in mid-December that allows subscribers to transfer photos and videos between their mobile phone and their PC.
Based on Smith Micro Software’s QuickLink Media platform, Verizon says the software is part of its push to expand V Cast support to more mobile devices, including those powered by Google’s Android operating system.
Qualcomm’s MediaFLO platform also continues to expand its reach (it is now in use or in trials with carriers in six countries and in November was approved for mobile TV use in Japan, along with the ISDB-TV standard), and will soon be joined by Broadcom, which plans to unveil a new DLNA-based (Digital Living Network Alliance) mobile multimedia system at CES.
The Broadcom chip, which is set to reach consumers in 2011, promises to bring 1080p support to mobile video, further extending the technology’s appeal to mainstream users. (Broadcom already offers a 720p cell phone video chip, which is in use on the Sprint Nextel network.)
As with HD television, the story for video cameras and production hardware is increasingly focused on “smaller, cheaper.”
Rather than investing in a $20,000 or $30,000 high-def camera for their reporters, station groups are now able to pick up $1,000 consumer-level cameras that are capable of doing the job nearly as well.
Given the current economics of local TV news, “pro-sumer” cameras — those that add professional audio inputs and other needed features to consumer-based hardware — could be a growth market in 2010.
Along with all the hardware, there will be a lot of talk.
This show will mark the first appearance for FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, who will sit down with CEA President Gary Shapiro on Jan. 8 at the Convention Center.
Other events worth noting include a CNET-sponsored session on connected television (featuring Boxee CEO Avner Ronen; Terry Denison, Verizon vice president of content strategy; and CBS Interactive CEO Quincy Smith) and the CES Mobile Entertainment conference, covering everything from distribution technologies, to mobile revenue streams, to the latest in smartphone hardware.
Of particular interest to broadcasters will be Up Next at CES, a series of sessions dedicated to the monetization of new media. Touted as the first event of its kind, the two-day conference will bring together content producers (like Electus’ CEO Ben Silverman, Funny or Die CEO Dick Glover and The West Wing director Thomas Schlamme) with distribution technologies, in an effort to shape the future of media.
“We think now is the time to have the really nitty-gritty discussions about how are we going to make money going forward,” says Up Next organizer Arthur Greenwald.
“It’s time to make smart business decisions, not have pie in the sky discussions,” he adds. “Creating revenues in new media has almost become a myth, but that doesn’t mean the potential’s not real. We just want to get to that real stuff as quickly as possible.”