Forget NATPE: The new "It" confab for TV types is International CES.
Once the domain of gadget geeks and tech nerds, CES has evolved into a must-attend conference for small-screen execs. In an era of video iPods, TiVo and Slingboxes, suits want to make sure they're in synch with the manufacturers of consumer technology.
"Every single media company realizes that the success or failure of our businesses will be determined by how well we adapt to what's happening with new media and technology," CBS president/CEO and CES keynoter Leslie Moonves said. "If you're not totally aware of what's happening in technology and the new kinds of delivery systems, you're going to go the way of the dinosaurs."
No wonder, then, that Moonves will be one of several entertainment biz heavy hitters making the trip to Las Vegas. He's scheduled to deliver a keynote speech to the convention on Jan. 9, while Disney's Bob Iger will speak to delegates the day before.
CBS and Disney aren't saying just what their leaders will talk about at CES. If history is any guide, however, they'll probably make news.
Last year, for example, Moonves used CES to announce the Eye's partnership with Google Video to sell series online.
"The audience at CES is one we want to speak to," Moonves said. "The dollars that are available on digital [platforms] are going to grow substantially."
News Corp.'s Peter Chernin also made headlines last year by announcing plans to shorten the window between theatrical and home video releases of films. Fox and DirecTV also unveiled a new on-demand service to let consumers pay to watch shows before they debuted on TV.
"The content industry is ceding control to consumers and coming to terms with technology and today's landscape," Chernin said last year.
He'll be back at the conference this year, even though he's not scheduled to make a formal presentation.
In addition to Chernin, Andrew G. Setos, president of engineering for the Fox Group, says he and many of his News Corp. peers will definitely be at CES. The show, he says, gives creative execs the chance to figure out how to shape their content for new media.
"There's a huge shift in how creative works are being made available to people," Setos explains. Execs "need to talk to the people who are creating all these things. You have to get familiar with them."
NBC Universal, which has made much of the importance of new technologies as part of its NBC 2.0 initiative, is also sending a high-level delegation of execs to CES. President of digital media Beth Comstock and Jeff Gaspin, president of NBC U Cable and digital content, will lead the charge.
Digital delivery of film and TV content will continue to be a major theme at CES. While Apple doesn't attend the show, its upcoming release of ITV — a device that makes it easier to view Web content on a traditional television — is sure to be a hot topic at the show.
"We're headed for a universe where you're going to be able to get content wherever you want it whenever you want it," Moonves said.
And while business concerns are obviously top of mind for Hollywood execs always anxious to open up new revenue streams, Setos says CES is important because it gives creative types a chance to see how technology impacts the way consumers soak up their entertainment.
"There are all sorts of questions, like whether a two-hour movie intended to be seen on a 200-foot screen works on a 2-inch screen," he said.
Setos says the business can't repeat the mistakes of the past, when new technologies were initially shunned by Hollywood due to nothing more than fear.
"Decades ago, when television became a big force, the motion picture industry stonewalled it as a competitor," he said. "That was dumb. They should've embraced it. We're in the creative business. We have to rock and roll with whatever medium there is."