Take a moment to consider the keynotes at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last month. Microsoft, Intel, Yahoo, Google and, oh yeah…Sony. That’s right, just one of the five keynotes at the world’s largest consumer electronics show came from a company whose core business is actually making consumer electronics. And what did Sony honcho Sir Howard Stringer discuss? Digital rights management and downloading e-books over the Internet. When even an old-school media mogul like Stringer geeks out on stage, we know the nerds have really taken over. But what does this mean for cable? Everything, actually. Garnering the most buzz at this year’s show was the idea that consumers are demanding control of their multimedia content—whether it travels over cable, a wireless network or the Internet. At CES, Yahoo touted its "Go" suite of services that enables consumers to access Yahoo content—including audio and video—right from their TVs, laptops or mobile handhelds. Google, meanwhile, pushed video downloads, including a deal with CBS to make shows like CSI and Survivor available for $1.99. (Don’t forget Apple’s iTunes, already selling top ABC shows like Lost over the Internet.) In three or four years, cable and IPTV consumers could be walking around with portable remotes built right into smartphones—able to access all of their content on the go. Work-arounds already exist. At CES, Sling Media showed off Slingbox—the brick-sized device that can stream content from a cable set-top to a laptop or Windows Mobile-enabled handheld. The device also enables consumers to remotely order pay-per-view movies, perform e-commerce or engage in any other revenue-generating services that cable operators create in the coming years. With CES 2006 over, the real question is why companies like Yahoo, Google and Sling Media are offering these services and gadgets rather than cable operators themselves. After all, cable operators could work with CE makers to design some pretty exotic toys. For example, how about a WiFi-enabled gizmo (not a laptop) that cable customers could use for instant video, voice or data connectivity anywhere in the home? Within the next few years, cable operators could use IP-based technology to enable control of everything from security and lighting to the HVAC system into one cable-centric device. Of course, we’re not there yet. And perhaps cable operators are safe for now. But as some Internet and technology companies move into the media-everywhere age, the cable industry may want to keep an eye on the rearview mirror. Michael Grebb is a Washington, D.C.-based journalist who specializes in the coverage of technology and media trends.

The Daily


So Long, Rob Stoddard

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