CableFAX Executive Editor Michael Grebb reflects on the craziness (cable-related and otherwise) that was the 2007 International Consumer Electronics Show. Be sure to check out Mike’s CES videos, including his pre-show chat with CEA pres/CEO Gary Shapiro, getting trounced by pro videogamer "Lost Remote" and a sneak peek at Hillcrest Labs (now home to former Comcast marketer Andy Addis) before the show…
LAS VEGAS — Crowded. Cacophonous. Crazy. All of these things and more describe Las Vegas during the International Consumer Electronics Show. As I sit in a cramped puddle jumper flying over mountains and desert on my way to TCA in Pasadena, CA, I look back at Sin City with a mix of longing and relief. Longing that I had had more time to explore the exhibit floors. Relief that I’m getting out of that ridiculous zoo.
To be sure, cable was there in force. On Tuesday, I was over at the Panasonic booth (which is really a small city… I firmly believe that $500 of every HDTV the company sells goes to pay for that sprawling CES exhibit) when I spotted a cable contingent that included NCTA chief Kyle McSlarrow and Time Warner Cable’s Glenn Britt, among others. They were collectively ogling at Panasonic’s new OCAP-enabled set-top (Comcast will deploy those this year) and its OCAP-enabled HDTV set that’s scheduled to hit stores in 2008. They nodded as one of Panasonic’s execs walked them through the particulars—and then they were off to the next thing. That’s pretty much the fate of all of us at CES: Take in a gadget or two, then move on to the next one knowing full well you’ll never see everything.
Sessions included plenty of fodder for cable, including ones touching on interactive TV, mobile media and lots of other “convergence” trends. With cable eyeing the quadruple play and integrating the various aspects of the bundle within the home, it seems that CES is clearly broadening its spectrum. Of course, there were the typical heavy-hitter panels that varied in terms of their news value. I had high hopes for one starring Britt, Cox’s Pat Esser, DirecTV’s Chase Carey and EchoStar’s Charlie Ergen. But honestly, it was a bit of a snoozer. No one said much controversial; although Ergen’s sudden declaration that his subs “weren’t that bright” made everybody gasp. Another panel with McSlarrow and MSTV’s David Donovan wasn’t Earth-shattering either.
But leave it to the FCC’s Kevin Martin to shake things up: His revelation that the FCC would blow off big cable operators seeking waivers of the set-top integration ban (an official FCC order denying Comcast’s request came a few hours later) was the latest in a string of anti-cable zingers. Sometimes I wonder if Martin was bullied on the playground by a cable installer’s son or something when he was a kid. There has to be some dark secret that explains his cable-dissing ways. Anyway, we’ll keep investigating that one.
In any event, here are some other random thoughts about sights and sounds at this year’s CES:
• Once again, CEA did a good job with the press room, although it could be a bit larger to accommodate all of us disheveled scribes, bloggers, Web video producers and God knows who else scammed press passes this year. Kudos as always for the awesome bags we get when picking up our badges. This year it was an orange knapsack (I still use the one from 2 years ago, which has rollers on the bottom for lugging all that heavy swag that builds up as we sweep the exhibit floor).
• I have been to CES about 10 or so times in the last 15 years, but this year marked the first time I had a two-man video crew in toe. Quite a different experience. Lugging a full cart full of A/V equipment through masses of people wasn’t easy, but Dann the camera guy was quite the enforcer as he gently nudged folks to get out of the way. But hey… he got us where we needed to go. Good work Dann! Check out all the edited videos from CES at Cable360.net over the next few weeks.
• A word about the women known affectionately by tech geeks everywhere as the “booth babes”—hired spokesmodels who adorn many exhibits at the show. After much reflection and many CES’s under my belt, I have decided that these women were not born—they were grown in a lab. Either that, or they came off of some clandestine Fem-Bot factory tucked deep in the Nevada desert. These cybernetic sirens smile endlessly at the male-dominated CE crowd, beckoning geeky executives to chat with babes that normally would throw a drink in their faces. Call it revenge of the nerds. But it pretty much works for the companies that hire them. Even more interesting is that I shared a shuttle bus to the airport with a woman who books this kind of “talent” for trade shows. She said the biggest problem is making sure these beauty queens don’t party too much at night, which tends to make them show up late for their booth appointments the next morning. “It’s kind of like babysitting,” she said. Add this with the fact that the Adult Video News confab runs concurrently in another exhibit hall at the Sands convention center… and, well… let’s just say that these are among the many reasons so many dudes show up for this thing every year. For our international guests, I’m so glad they get to experience these wholesome American values while visiting the states (as if the simple fact they’re in Las Vegas wasn’t enough). • And speaking of robots, what’s up with this Asimo guy? Every year, Honda demos the latest version of its bi-pedal robot. This year, this C3P0-wannabe actually runs in addition to climbing stairs and performing admittedly amazing feats. I’m just wondering when he’ll be able to write and edit CableFAX. In any event, I also wonder whether it’s really just a small guy in a robot suit. I think this merits investigation. Let’s put McNews’ Teddy Ballgame on the case!