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CE Travelogue

As I’ve said before, “Cover the CE industry, see the world.” That was never truer than my travels in the past three weeks. I’ve been to CEATEC in Japan and last week’s CEA Fall Forum in Coronado, Calif. The trips enabled me to visit with plenty of industry friends and colleagues and learn more about this business as we enter the fourth quarter.

Concerning Q4, if you believe CEA’s 14th Annual CE Holiday Purchase Patterns report and you should since it is historically on the mark, industry sales during the fourth quarter will grow by 7 percent. Last year it predicted 15 percent growth. That means CE sales will only grow half as much as last year’s Q4. Will that sales growth increase profits? We will soon find out.

I haven’t been to Japan or to the CEATEC show since 2004. While it doesn’t seem like three years, times goes by. This time Blu-ray and HD DVD had plenty of home recorders on display for the Japanese market. The U.S. press wanted to know when they would come here. I heard from Panasonic and other top execs at the show that U.S. consumers “are not really interested in home video recording.” Maybe that’s true, but maybe possible Hollywood lawsuits against HD DVD and/or Blu-ray home recorders in the U.S. might have something to do with curbing any idea of shipping those decks here for the time being.

I haven’t heard anyone get “called out” in years, but CNN’s Lou Dobbs did by Gary Shapiro, CEA’s CEO/president. Shapiro usually delivers a very businesslike annual “state of CE/CEA speech” at one of the lunches at its Fall Forum. This year Shapiro got pretty fiery saying CEA will continue to fight “protectionism… and new barriers to free trade” that are cropping up in Washington and on the Presidential campaign trail which creates “fear and defeatism… and will cripple our economy.” He then challenged Dobbs to a debate about free trade calling him, “the [Senator Joseph] McCarthy of our era on the issue of international trade.” I agreed with someone at lunch I overheard saying, “I want to program my TiVo when that happens!”

Also at last week’s CEA event the annual CE Hall of Fame awards dinner was held. Over the years it has become one of my favorite events on the industry calendar. I had the pleasure of being seated at dinner with honoree Dick Schulze, chairman and founder of Best Buy, who talked about the industry’s past, present and future. I reminded him of an interview I did with Schulze at Best Buy headquarters around a decade ago where he accurately predicted how his company would grow over those ten years. Looking back the numbers looked (and are) astronomical. But I learned that you shouldn’t doubt a man with a vision and a team that can provide the desired results.

Congratulations to Dick and all the members of CE Hall Of Fame’s 2007 class.