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2014 CES: Innovate or…

| January 9, 2014

Holland Cooke
TALKERS Contributor
Media Consultant


cookewriterLAS VEGAS — The consumer electronics industry was a conspicuous bright spot throughout The Great Recession, and CEA is forecasting a record high 2014 USA sales of of $208 billion, “driven by product categories that didn’t even exist in a meaningful way a few years ago,” CEO Gary Shapiro observes.  “This year we will see $6 billion in sales of new categories such as 3D printers, wireless health and UltraHD.  To give you context – $6 billion is larger than the entire U.S. machine tool industry.”

Because radio was the original electronic thing, broadcasters are, arguably, in the same business; although the two industries’ interests sometimes diverge.  Broadcasting is legacy media, while CEA champions innovation. “It is too important to be choked by laws written long ago,” Shapiro preaches-out, praising disruptors like Aereo and Dish Network’s The Hopper (pronounced “HAW-puh”), both-of-which broadcasters are up-and-arms over.  Another touchy issue? 

Meet the new boss.

As he does each year, Shapiro interviewed the FCC Chairman one-on-one, and this was CES attendees’ first encounter with Tom Wheeler, on the job 3 months now.  Wheeler previously ran trade associations for the cable and telecom industries.  And the topic that got the most talk-time was one about-which the electronics industry and broadcasting aren’t, yet, on-the-same-page: Spectrum Auction.

In layman’s terms: TV stations will be invited to surrender their channels, in exchange for one-time megabucks when the FCC auctions-off that slice of spectrum to satisfy our voracious appetite for Wi-Fi, and to better-equip first responders.

Because most viewers watch via cable and satellite, stations would only lose those using TV antennas…and even those viewers could, theoretically, still be served, because the digital channels TV transitioned to a few years back can support multiple channels.  Wheeler put a good spin on it: “New technology traditionally plows-under old business models.  This allows broadcasters to harness new opportunities.”  Not-so-fast, the NAB cautions, urging careful consideration.

As for radio?

The entire FCC – all five commissioners – were at CES.  The other four appeared together in a session immediately following the Wheeler interview.

When it was time for Q&A, your intrepid, nerdy reporter asked Commissioner Ajit Pai about the AM Revitalization initiative he champions, about-which he-himself moderated a session at the 2013 NAB convention.  My two-part question:

*  “If it comes to that, IS there enough FM spectrum for AM broadcasters to migrate?”  Probably not everywhere, he reckons.

*  “Could we do an AM Spectrum Auction?  How-else could the AM band be repurposed?”  Dubious, he figures, off-the-top-of-his-head, because low-frequency AM radio won’t do Wi-Fi and is a narrow swath of spectrum.  I still think this is a masters thesis waiting-to-be-written.

Pai got a laugh when he shrugged, “I never thought a question about AM radio would come up at CES.”

Do YOU YouTube?

You should!  Stats from a CES session:

*  1 billion unique viewers per month.

*  100 hours of new content uploaded every minute.

*  Nielsen: YouTube reaches more adults than any network.

*  Almost 40% of global watch time is on phones.

The most-watched kinds of video on YouTube?

*  “Authentic,” not slick, professionally produced.

*  “Content about something very specific. Niche and searchable.”

*  Mainstream celebrities often DON’T work on YouTube.

*  That WestJet Christmas stunt was huge…some 35 million views.

It was hard to miss the WestJet story on what-seemed-like every newscast over the holidays.  If you did, watch this video.  If you don’t tear-up at the end, you’ve got a wooden heart:

Radio can be as special as it must by doing remarkable things like this.  Use trade.

More noise about “The Connected Car”

It’s now a cacophony.  And, as a practical matter, it may be moot.  No matter how many media choices various systems jam-into the new-tech dashboard, or how many different buttons your station has there, listeners need to want to listen.  Thus that WestJet story.

Automotive is big at CES.  New developments in blind spot detection and drowsiness alerts suddenly seem less-cutting-edge as driverless cars are being demonstrated.  We’re also seeing electric race cars, which will help raise consciousness about alternative energy.

But the car story that caught my eye was Elio.  Google it.

*  You can’t buy one yet, because there’s only one, a prototype.

*  When available, the Elio will sell for $6800 and get 84MPG highway.  NOT a misprint.

*  It seats two, bobsled-style, one-front, one-back.

*  Two wheels up front, one in the back.

*  Elio will be made-in-the-USA, in a Shreveport plant GM walked-away-from, leaving behind $600 million in equipment.

*  90% of what-goes-into this car is made in the USA.

And THAT is the kind of innovation that makes coming to CES such a feel-good snapshot of an American economy on-the-mend.  ICYMI, I’ve piled up my whole week of CES stuff at HollandCooke.com


Holland Cooke is a media consultant working at the intersection of Talk Radio and the Internet; and he covers industry conferences for TALKERS and RadioInfo.  Follow his real-time CES Tweets from the Las Vegas Convention Center @HollandCooke

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Category: Analysis