CES' Value Proposition

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If you weren't at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week, you missed the big party. Ironically, the big technology trade fest is now where all the cool kids in the TV business want to go. I was there, as were several media conglomerate execs, network presidents and studio chiefs.

But like any good John Hughes movie, it turned out that the TV in-crowd didn't seem to know quite how to hang with the techno-geeks.

“I'm not really sure why I am here,” one network president told me. “And this place is so big, I'm not sure what exactly to do.” That was the general sentiment from TV content execs at CES. But with the latest in screens, phones and all the other places content is heading on display, there was an understandable feeling you needed to be there.

And yet the event is so massive—140,000 attendees, 35 football fields worth of stuff—the television content industry needs to carve out some sort of physical space there if CES is to become the next place to be.

The week kicked off with Sony Pictures Television holding a closed-door event that featured performances from Jerry Seinfeld and Tony Bennett (see BCBeat, page 8).

Being at CES seemed to work for SPT, as the well-received event really planted a flag at the conference.

NBC Universal also had a big presence on the floor, though it was used mainly as a studio for live shoots for everything from CNBC to the Today show.

Still, it struck me as smart corporate messaging on NBC U's part: Having a big presence at CES invariably means you become a hangout place for TV industry execs. Most of them popped by the booth at some point during the show.

Outside of those booths, there was plenty to see and do, assuming you could find a face in the crowd. I walked the floor with FCC chairman Kevin Martin and talked about watching local news on fancy cell phones.

I saw MyVu's sunglasses with a TV screen built into them. You put them on, plug them into your iPod, and watch TV. The shades featured NBC programming. I would say that is so Ben Silverman, but the shades were pretty lame looking. They better come back next year with a licensing deal from Armani.

I also saw Panasonic's 150-inch giant TV, and a $2,500 Sony 11-inch HDTV that was as wide as your Costco card.

Samsung called its 80-incher the “World's Largest Ultra High Definition LCD TV.” I don't know what that means, but I can now confirm from experience that you haven't seen a college hoops player unknowingly caught on camera mining his left nostril for gold until you have seen it in 80-inch Ultra HD LCD.

Such images aside, the enormity of CES does beg the question of how the TV industry can be more productive there.

One way would be to create a content provider area, a place where all the TV companies could set up shop. Another possibility is MGM TV chief Jim Packer's idea for a “preview” day where techies can strut their stuff to TV industry execs.

Or maybe NATPE should just rent a huge space at CES and we can kill two birds with one casino chip.

Content and technology may indeed collide one day at CES, but it's not yet about deal making. “This is where the business is now,” SPT president Steve Mosko said. “You are here to learn, not just to cut deals.”

Then again, my last night in town, it took me three minutes to walk from my hotel lobby through the casino to the elevator to go to my room. In those three minutes, I was propositioned by four different scantily-clad women.

Clearly someone is at least trying to cut deals with TV people at CES.

E-mail comments to ben.grossman@reedbusiness.com