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What Listeners Will Find Under the Tree

| November 12, 2014

By Holland Cooke
Radio Consultant


cookewriterNEW YORK — Even before Thanksgiving, we know what will be in Santa’s sleigh, if just-released Consumer Electronics Association research nails it as well as in recent years.  The outlook is good generally, according to CEA chief economist & director of research Dr. Shawn DuBravac, who observes that “consumer credit is accelerating, and lower gas prices will help.”  He predicts 2.5% growth over last year’s holiday spending, consistent with other improved economic indicators.

His forecast came Tuesday at CES Unveiled/New York, the perennial press event previewing January’s massive, mind-boggling Consumer Electronics show in Las Vegas.  Not surprisingly, tech gifts will be big again this year, with 63% of USA adults surveyed planning to buy accordingly.

WHAT they’re working on at The North Pole?

This year’s Top 5 Wish List:

  1. Tablets
  2. Notebook computers
  3. TVs
  4. Smartphones
  5. Video game consoles

“These five products represent over half of industry revenue for the year.”  That’s half of $211 billion in 2014 in the USA alone, big business, in a conspicuous sector that never sagged during The Great Recession.  2014 was the tipping point when smartphones (2 billion worldwide) surpassed the number of computers in use (1.7B).

Gadgets-to-watch: Watches, which now do lots more than tell time.  A new CEA Health & Fitness division will showcase “wearables” at CES2015.  Aging Baby Boomers and their elderly parents and their tech-habitual Millennial children will strap-on/slip-into 22-to-28 million devices and smart garments in 2014 – which DuBravac says is “shaping-up to be The Year of the Wearable” – a billion dollar business for the first time, projected to be up 50-80% from last year.

Sports of all sorts get a digital assist.  Sensors in golf gloves and soccer and basketballs track movement, and send data to your coach.

WHEN gift-givers plan to buy:

Station sales department take note: DuBravac reckons that the rush will be “starting early, and stopping early.”  Black Friday deals no longer wait until the day after Thanksgiving, and more retailers than ever will be open on turkey day.

  • 83% say they’ll shop most in November or December,
  • 49% in November before Thanksgiving,
  • 16% ON Thanksgiving,
  • November-after-Thanksgiving 33%,
  • 34% will shop in December.

WHERE they plan to buy? 

It’s “Bricks vs. Clicks.”  26% say they plan to buy more online this year; with an all-time high of 54% very or somewhat likely to cyber-shop.  77% planning to shop in-store is roughly flat since 2010.

Many shopping for electronics will be shopping on their phones!  67% say they’re very/somewhat likely to shop on a mobile device.  And retailers are coping with “showrooming” (touch-and-feel in-store, then purchase online after bargain hunting there).  Best Buy is offering discount coupons for in-store purchase; and Target is incentivizing shoppers to order online and pick-up in-store (where impulse buying never takes a holiday).

What’s NEXT?

Utterly hypnotic UltraHD TV has FOUR TIMES the resolution of HDTV, and was understandably slow to take-off, since many have recently bought HDTV, and with typical sticker-shocking early-adopter prices, which have dropped significantly.  77,000 sets sold last year, and some 800,000 will sell in 2014, roughly 90% in the 50-59” screen size.

With 3D printers occupying 50% more Las Vegas acreage in January, “we’re moving from core categories” like phones and computers and TVs, “to nascent, less-owned categories.”  Yep, drones!  Or, as they and lots of other robots will be called at an even bigger area than last year in the sprawling Las Vegas Convention Center, “unmanned systems.”

Radio was consumers’ original electronic device.  Now legacy media like AM/FM compete with new media for listeners’ (and advertisers’) attention; and smart stations and talent are doing so tech-enabled.  What’s so striking to a broadcaster crashing tech’s party is how culturally different our industries are.  Hey, I’m a dang consultant!  My repertoire is Best Practices.  But if music stations become homogenized and “talk radio” becomes a punch line, why wouldn’t listeners embrace the choice and control and interactivity and variety that new-tech offers?

The Consumer Electronics industry’s mantra seems to be “How about THIS?”  Whether 3D printers trigger what DuBravac calls “The Third Industrial Revolution” remains to be seen.  And much of what will be on display across 2 MILLION square feet of exhibit space in ‘Vegas this year won’t be back next year, but hey…innovators tried.  “Fragmentation of Innovation,” he figures.  Not everyone wants their smartphone to talk to a digital crockpot back home, “but some people might.”  And that electronic toothbrush might seem a tad Jetsons; but if enough people used ‘em, dental science could learn from aggregate data.

Much – maybe most of – what I’ll report on here from in January is “still in the experimentation stage,” and, as a result, “we’re going to stumble-upon breakthroughs.”  Prescription for radio?  When DuBravac observed that, in today’s wired/wireless/Wi-Fi’d world, “kids have never known the tethered life,” I couldn’t help but think: and they’re not growing up with an AM/FM habit, unless we matter to them.

For the first time in history the entire FCC and FTC – every commissioner – will appear at CES.  As will Ford’s new CEO, CBS CEO Les Moonves, and one Bob Pittman.  “Shark Tank” will hold a casting call.  In January, look for my daily reports here, and breathless updates on “America in the Morning” and “The Jim Bohannon Show” and on my client stations.


Holland Cooke is a media consultant working at the intersection of broadcasting and the Internet; and he covers conventions for Talkers and RadioInfo.  www.HollandCooke.com, @HollandCooke

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Category: Analysis, Digital