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CEA Forum Notes, Quotes

The first full day of the annual Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) Fall Industry Forum has come and gone with eventful remarks, presentations and opinions about the industry’s present, near future and beyond thrown about.

Monday’s big news was a predicted 3.5 percent increase in holiday sales, according to CEA’s 15th Annual CE Holiday Purchase Patterns study, a historically reliable weather vane of what may happen in the coming weeks. Among the details we didn’t have in our news coverage of the report was that “peace/happiness” topped the CEA Holiday Wish List for adults this year. (TV, video game systems and cellphones came in as Nos. 7, 8 and 9, so, recession or not, we have not become completely altruistic.)

The study mentioned little about the effect the DTV transition will have on HDTV sales. TV sales were mixed in with audio, MP3 players and camcorders in the report with the growth contribution being 1.1 percent out of a total of 3.5 percent. Mobile phones sales were set at 1.7 percent. That leaves 0.7 percent for everything else.

I agree with the statement, “Consumer electronics has moved from being a luxury to a necessity,” made by Gary Shapiro, president/CEO of CEA, during his remarks at lunch Monday. That is what’s different about CE since 2001 and the early 1990s, the previous economic downturns we had. Maybe that will maintain and increase sales of CE in the coming months.

There are indications in the study that maybe the old saying that CE is “recession-proof” will meet its test this time around. When discussing this with Toshiba’s TV marketing VP Scott Ramirez, he suggested, “No, not recession-proof, but maybe recession-resistant.” I tend to agree.

Talking about the holiday study with Shawn DuBravac, CEA economist, took me back to the early 1980s when I covered the toy industry for a trade publication. While agreeing that one of the top reasons a gift of a good laptop is a good idea due to the educational benefits, he used the phrase, “It is a back-to-basics approach.” The toy biz lived on that phrase back then … when traditional toy makers turned their backs on Atari 2600, Mattel Intellivision or ColecoVision game systems and stuck with basic toys. We saw how that worked out.

During the networking breaks that go on during conferences like this everyone was talking about the shaky state of Circuit City and the economy.

If goodwill and karma mean anything, what I heard today at the meeting should give Circuit City some hope. Those optimists are also realists and know that if Circuit City goes Chapter 11, or worse, in Q4 it will be a tremendous loss for the industry in the short and long term. Some have product waiting to be shipped to the chain, others don’t. And still more haven’t sold Circuit in quite a while. But all are hoping for a miracle, or close to it.

And then Kevin Kelly, senior “maverick” (my quotes) of Wired magazine, appeared. (If actor James Garner, star of the old TV series “Maverick,” had ever licensed that term he would have avoided any economic downturn during this election year.)

Kelly was the lunch speaker on Monday and I agreed and disagreed with some of the points he made about the future of the Web. Kelly said that the “smart mob” or the “wisdom of the crowd” are keys to the Web.

I have never really seen, heard or witnessed any “smart mob” in the world — either in the real or virtual one. Or maybe I’m taking his words too literally.

But the “wisdom of the crowd” usually means democracy … usually when the individual agrees with the result.