LAS VEGAS: For those of you who haven’t been to CES, you’re missing out on an intensely contemplative experience. Sure, there are 140,000 harried tech geeks bumping into each other in the hallways, steamrolling each other with lethal wheelie laptop bags and hand trucks full of video equipment, running through each other as if each body was but an apparition fading in and out of reality (“I see tech people!”). But there’s still plenty of time for contemplation about the future of the cable industry.
In fact, there’s a lot of time for contemplation, thanks to the endless hours spent in lines staring into space like a medicated tree sloth. Wanna eat? Stand in line. Wanna cab? Stand in line. Wanna paramedic? Stand the hell in line and stop complaining about those chest pains! OK. Maybe it’s not quite that bad. But all of this contemplative time has helped me reach a few cable-centric conclusions on this first day of the big show:
Bill Gates will never stop. Yes, he’s leaving Microsoft’s operational sphere this summer to spend more time saving the world with his wife Melinda. But don’t be lulled into a false sense of security. His keynote on Sunday was scary. Scary, I tell ya. The basic takeaway is that he plans to surgically implant XBox 360 components into every man, woman and child across the globe to create an army of hyper-networked cyborgs. Oh yes. We will all bow down to the XBox. Even Disney has acquiesced to Bill’s will by agreeing to provide VOD content. OK, I kid. But one thing is certain: Gaming consoles like the XBox 360—as well as the PlayStation 3—are fast becoming direct cable competitors. Period. Deal with it.
Charlie Ergen is crazy like a Colorado fox. During a CES press conference, it was hard to deny that Ergen and his exec pals are big thinkers. Seriously. In fact, cable should continue to keep a close eye on him. Sure, he can’t really do the triple play as well as cable. The problem for cable is that Ergen knows that and is now intent on killing cable with more HD channels—even potentially at the expense of his other non-HD fare. Furthermore, the split of Dish Network from EchoStar—which now includes the ultra-cool Sling Media—is looking more and more like pure genius. Now he can sell hardware to anyone who wants it, whether cable, telco or otherwise. Guess $10 billion isn’t enough. Charlie could be worth $20 billion in five years. Unless cable steps up.
Kevin Martin is watching you. I was innocently walking down a crowded hallway when I saw the FCC chairman and his entourage lurking around the corner. He’s an excellent lurker. Better than any of the classic villains of comic-book lore because he looks relatively harmless, bespectacled in his nerdiness and blending well into the landscape of geekdom that permeates every molecule of the Las Vegas Convention Center during CES. But, alas, he remains the Cable Terminator. Don’t forget it.
People are still confused. As far as the panels are going so far, it’s hard to know whether to listen or simply yawn. For years, people have talked about convergence and insisted that it’s already here. Well, they’re right once again. It is here. Sort of. But not really. But wait, my computer still can’t seem to find my wireless peripheral. What? I need a firmware update? Where do I get it? Oh, damn… Now I have to change my firewall settings? OK, did that. Oh no! Now I can’t get on the Internet. Damn you, convergence! Damn you all to hell!!!!… Oh, OK. Convergence has come a long way. And the home networking stuff tends to work most of the time. But it’s still not the seamless, happy-go-lucky, no-error-message world that we’re promised year after year after year. Maybe Comcast or some other cable operator will figure all of this stuff out and make it easy. Maybe Charlie Ergen will. Or Bill Gates. Or Apple. Or Google. CES Journal: Day Two Interface Gazing