International CES Press Preview Examines Trends, Growth Issues
January 5, 2015 at 5:54 PM (PT)
INTERNATIONAL CES is in session this week in LAS VEGAS, and the pre-show press festivities began SUNDAY with the CONSUMER ELECTRONICS ASSOCIATION's Chief Economist SHAWN DUBRAVAC presenting his annual "Trends to Watch" analysis.
DUBRAVAC's look at the "digitalization of physical space" stressed the transition of the consumer electronics industry towards creating technology and only then experimenting with use case scenarios, as in the burgeoning drone category. Projecting "phenomenal growth" for the as-yet-unsettled 4K/Ultra HD TV category and strong growth in the smart watch sector, DUBRAVAC also touted the industry's adoption of more natural communication with devices (like voice control, a key for the connected car), predictive customization by which devices communicate with each other to measure a user's needs, and the "sensorization" of devices previously not connected to the Internet.
CEA Dir./Industry Analysis STEVE KOENIG followed DUBRAVAC with the global CE outlook, noting the increasing dominance of smartphones and growth of tablets, but the rosy outlook came with some concerns that the growth rates of sales and revenue for smartphones are actually declining as developing markets are flooded with low-cost devices, many from CHINA; as for tablets, not only is the growth rate declining (albeit less than for smartphones), but revenue is dropping as well. KOENIG raised the issue of whether the tablet category is being affected by the "filling-in" of screen size options as phones get larger.
In product announcements late SUNDAY, NVIDIA showed off a new digital dashboard product, DriveCX, and a new mobile processor, the Tegra X1, with a teraflop of computing power; and CHEVROLET showed off the new version of the electric Volt (which will be formally unveiled at next week's DETROIT AUTO SHOW).
MONDAY is the official Press Day at CES, with several CE manufacturers holding press conferences including SAMSUNG, PANASONIC, and SONY, and some panels will be in session, although the show (and its exhibit floors) officially open on TUESDAY, including the new content-oriented "C-Space" at the ARIA. ALL ACCESS' PERRY MICHAEL SIMON is once again on hand with reports from the show each day and analysis coming in his weekly "The Letter" column on FRIDAY.
Universal's Rodgers Discusses Music In The Social Media Era
Asked at a MONDAY CES panel whether one can still make money with music, UNIVERSAL MUSIC GROUP DISTRIBUTION and BUNGALO RECORDS SVP ROBERT (LEO) RODGERS said yes -- the pie is the same size, he noted, but "the slices have shifted." He called the music space "convoluted," with two percent of iTUNES gits making most of the revenue, and added that brick-and-mortar retailers remain important, as is the need to promote the product. Stressing engagement -- 12 million social media followers, he said, ought to translate into 12 million sales -- he said that touring is the primary driver of earnings for bands (but added that the artists making most by touring are legacy acts like THE EAGLES and JOURNEY ("guys in their sixties!"). And on changes in A&R, RODGERS said that the new A&R team are "the bloggers, the interns, the ones that are online" tipping the official A&R staffers to what's hot online. But he added, "give me a hit record and the rest will take care of itself."
Manufacturers Show Off The Goods At Press Presentations
SAMSUNG's press conference touted its leadership in rolling out Ultra HD 4K television (and curved screens), the development of display technology it says is better than OLED -- "SUHD," shown off in an 88-inch set with what SAMSUNG claims are deeper blacks and 64 times the color expression of standard TVs -- and the company's initiatives in the "Internet of Things," noting that 32% of consumers say they are interested in connected devices but only 2% own such devices so far. The SAMSUNG MILK MUSIC streaming service offered in conjunction with SLACKER and MILK VIDEO will be extended to SAMSUNG's SmartTV platform and to PCs, and videos will be offered in Virtual Reality mode via MILK VR, announced with "THE WALKING DEAD" Executive Producer DAVID ALPERT (producing an "experience" for the VR system) and content partnerships with other parties including the NBA. A multi-room audio system and a new line of appliances for kitchen (featuring a tablet and app to control it all) and laundry (including a washer with built-in sink) were displayed, and the company, with the help of 20TH CENTURY FOX HOME ENTERTAINMENT President MIKE DUNN, expanded on the announcement earlier in the day of the UHD ALLIANCE trade group with SHARP, NETFLIX, DIRECTV, DOLBY VISION, TECHNICOLOR, DISNEY, and PANASONIC to promote standards for the production of content in Ultra HD.
PANASONIC's press conference heralded the previously-announced revival of the TECHNICS audio brand in NORTH AMERICA in APRIL after a 13 year absence with a lineup of high-end equipment including network audio receivers, speakers, and preamplifiers in two series, and announced that its coming 4K televisions will use MOZILLA's FIREFOX OS engine and unveiled a prototype for a 4K HDR-compatible Blu-ray player.
SHARP offered a television, the Aquos Beyond 4K UHD TV, that it says offers resolution greater than 4K using pixel splitting to achieve closer to 8K, plus a 70-inch "Super Slim" 4K set less than a half-inch thick. It also unveiled "frameless" screens that allow integration into shapes other than flat and/or square.
LG's press conference showed off its new line of OLED 4K TVs using the WebOS platform that it says can be used in conjunction with home automation, wellness devices, and more. One new OLED set will allow users to switch between curved and flat screens. At LG's presentation, NETFLIX, one of the few programming services to offer 4K content, announced a new initiative to recommend TV sets to its subscribers. LG also reiterated that it will be bringing its wireless multi-room audio system Music Flow to the U.S. and AUSTRALIA, and showed the next iteration of its Flex smartphone, the Flex 2, with a 5.5 inch curved screen and "self-healing" scratchproof back cover.
SONY's press conference at its booth in the LAS VEGAS CONVENTION CENTER led off with President and CEO KAZ HIRAI referencing the email hacking drama, calling it "one of the most vicious and malicious" hacks in history but thanking employees and supporters for standing up against the "extortionist efforts of criminals" and allowing the release of "THE INTERVIEW." Moving on from the hacking, HIRAI touted the launch of the PLAYSTATION VUE streaming service, in invite-only mode until its commercial launch in first quarter 2015, and the company's image sensor leadership in its camera line, leading him to talk about the extension of its sensor technology into the automotive field and its home audio/video Life Space UX system, including an LED bulb speaker, a "Symphonic Light Speaker" that streams music from a lamp fixture, and a portable "Ultra Short Throw Projector." HIRAI also said that the PS4 has sold 18.5 million units since launching and 1.4 million during the holidays, with the PLAYSTATION NOW streaming network and associated music and video services reaching 10.9 million subscribers.
On the company's content side, HIRAI noted the success of TV series "THE GOLDBERGS" and "THE BLACKLIST" and films "THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2" and "22 JUMP STREET," and the fast adoption of 4K on the production side. In music, HIRAI cited PHARRELL WILLIAMS' "Happy," IGGY AZALEA's "Fancy," and PINK FLOYD's album "The Endless River," released in NOVEMBER. HIRAI was followed by SONY ELECTRONICS USA COO MIKE FASULO promoting the company's line of X900C series of extremely thin 4K televisions running Android TV and using a new trackpad-style remote. NETFLIX' MIKE ROGERS appeared with SONY as he did earlier with LG to add SONY to the list of "NETFLIX Recommended" sets and to note that NETFLIX will be streaming HDR content to SONY TVs later this year.
FASULO added that NETFLIX' 4K streaming will be joined in the category by AMAZON, VIDEO UNLIMITED, and YOUTUBE; with the help of video shot by TONY HAWK (who also appeared in person), he also showed off a new 4K Action Cam sports camera with enhanced image stabilization. And FASULO said that the company is moving ahead with more High Resolution Audio equipment, including a new Walkman running Android and a new audio upscaling technology, DSEE HX, along with enhanced wireless coding technology and Googlecast capability. Finally, SONY displayed its new Xperia Z3 and Z3v smartphones, announcing that Android 5.0 would be coming to all Xperia Z phones next month, and in the wearable category, a new stainless steel Smartwatch 3, a partnership with VIRGIN ATLANTIC, and new "Smart-B Trainer" headphones for use while exercising.
DISH NETWORK announced its long-in-the-works over-the-top Web streaming cable-like TV service, to be called SLING TV and offering a bundle of 12 popular cable networks for $20 per month, including ESPN and ESPN2, THE DISNEY CHANNEL, FOOD NETWORK, TNT, CNN, TBS, HGTV, CARTOON NETWORK/ADULT SWIM, and ABC FAMILY, plus a new channel based on videos from MAKER STUDIOS. For additional fees, users can add themed packages of more channels, including a children's pack and a news and information pack. Broadcast networks like ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, THE CW, and PBS are not included, and the service will be offered without a contract on iOS, Android, ROKU, AMAZON FIRE, GOOGLE NEXUS, LG and SAMSUNG TVs, and MICROSOFT's XBox One.
GM's late SUNDAY presentation unveiled enhancements to its OnStar service that includes finding specific businesses, booking hotel rooms, and offering coupons; it also plans to offer a service that will monitor a user's driving and adjust insurance rates accordingly (using data processing through PROGRESSIVE INSURANCE).