CES Draws Cadre Of Industries, Issues

By Steve Smith On Jan 21 2008 - 8:00am

Battling HD-disc formats, mobile DTV, thinner-than-ever HDTVs, the introduction of a General Motors green fuel-cell concept car, and the ever-growing presence of the entertainment industry were just some of the highlights and happenings at International CES, held here Jan. 7-10.

The 2008 edition of CES featured a record 1.85 million in net square feet of exhibit space with 2,700 exhibitors and an initial tally of 130,000 attendees, down from last year's 143,000, according to Karen Chupka, events and conferences senior VP of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), producer of the show. A final audited number will be released during the spring.

The pervasiveness of the consumer electronics industry was illustrated by the fact that it was the first time a top cable executive (Comcast CEO Brian Roberts) and head of a leading car manufacturer (General Motors chairman/CEO Rick Wagoner) were CES keynote speakers, and the head of a country spoke at CES (Paul Kagame, president of the Republic of Rwanda). Kagame spoke during the Industry Insider series called "Technology and Emerging Countries."

Also, as Gary Shapiro, president/CEO of CEA, pointed out, this was "the first year a television network broadcast its entire nightly newscast — 'NBC Nightly News'— live from the show floor." Shapiro was also a keynoter, pushing for attendees to support free-trade policies.

NBC Universal was the official broadcaster of the show and had many of its programs broadcasting from CES. Sony Corporation — not just Sony Electronics — had all of its technology and entertainment units in a massive booth, illustrating the notion that while CE drives the entertainment business, the reverse is truer than ever before.

Comcast's Roberts unveiled the cable operator's expanded plans in HD that are helped in part by Comcast's deal with Panasonic to develop a Tru2way-ready (formerly OCAP) TV that will be available later this year.

That deal was announced by Toshihiro Sakamoto, president of Panasonic AVC Networks Company, the CE and PC manufacturing arm of parent company Matsushita Electric Industrial during his keynote. He also unveiled a portable PVR that was part of the Comcast deal, a 150-inch plasma TV, and several other product announcements.

Some tried-and-true events were also held. Microsoft founder Bill Gates delivered his 11th and final pre-CES keynote, outlining his vision for digital technology in the next decade. Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin spoke with Shapiro in a one-on-one interview and said the Feb. 17, 2009, analog cutoff was a "hard date" that won't be changed.

While there was conspicuously no news about the pending Sirius/XM satellite radio merger from the FCC or anyone else, Warner's decision to drop HD DVD and only support Blu-ray generated much conjecture from everyone at the show, while Samsung and LG discussed competing mobile DTV formats.

Another issue that seems to resurface once every few years is the cost of attending CES here in Vegas. On the eve of the show, a story from a local paper was picked up by CNN that said the CEA was looking at other venues around the country for the show due to higher hotel costs and some price gouging on the part of some Vegas businesses.

Chupka disputed the story and told TWICE that since CEA is "in the trade-show business" it needs to "know what's going on in the marketplace," but that no substantial talks have been held with authorities here to move the show. What CEA has done in the past four months is to meet with the various hotel chains that operate in Las Vegas to try to "keep costs in perspective," as Chupka called it, to limit future hotel rate increases for the CES block of rooms at around 5 percent. She said over the years there have been double-digit increases in hotel room rates.

For more coverage of CES, check just about every section of this issue, the Jan. 28 print edition and online at www.TWICE.com and www.TWICE.com/ces2008.

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