CES gadget show: How watching TV will change in the 2020s

What will watching TV be like in the 2020s? The CES gadget show will offer some glimpses, as companies strut out celebrities such as Mandy Moore and show off shorter viewing experiences for the mobile era.

The annual technology show is typically a hotbed for the latest television sets, robots and fitness gadgets, but new entertainment options fueled by technology are joining the mix. TV stalwarts such as NBC and CBS will join upstarts like mobile-focused Quibi and free service Tubi to discuss what the next generation of TV might look like.

CES, formerly known as the Consumer Electronics Show, starts Sunday in Las Vegas with two days of media previews. The show floor opens Tuesday through Friday. More than 170,000 people are expected, with 4,500 companies exhibiting, according to its organizers. The show takes place across a sprawling set of hotels and convention centers equivalent to more than 50 football fields.

Beyond streaming, expect to see artificial intelligence-infused home appliances, security cameras and cars, new gadgets that show what faster 5G cellular service can offer and, as always, the newest in robots and souped-up TVs. Speakers this week include Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and senior adviser, and Hyunsuk Kim, Samsung’s head of consumer electronics.

As technology increasingly infuses our lives, more traditional companies are showing up for the Las Vegas event. There’s a new travel section, for example, with Delta Air Lines its largest exhibitor.

It’s not the first time television and entertainment companies have used CES to set out a road map for TV. During the 2015 show, satellite TV company Dish announced a cheaper, cable-like package of TV channels delivered over the internet as fewer people, particular younger ones, sign up for cable and satellite subscriptions. Offerings from Sony, DirecTV, Google, Hulu and others soon joined Dish’s Sling TV.

But five years later, instead of saving the television industry from “cord-cutting,” these online alternatives have been struggling, raising prices and in the case of Sony’s PlayStation Vue, shutting down altogether.

So it’s on to Plan B: Owners of television channels and producers of their shows are selling Netflix-like subscription services directly to consumers. Disney Plus launched in November, while WarnerMedia’s HBO Max and NBCUniversal’s Peacock are coming in a few months. If people would rather pay for subscriptions such as Netflix instead of traditional television channels through cable packages, Disney and other media companies figure they might as well try to get some of that money directly.

But they face competition from tech companies also seeking to replicate and encroach on Netflix’s successes. Apple launched its own streaming service in November, while Quibi promises phone-friendly viewing, with former Disney studios chief Jeffrey Katzenberg behind the effort.

“Bets have been made and billions of dollars have been spent on content,” said Peter Csathy , founder and chairman of digital media consulting firm CreaTV Media. “Those numbers will only go up as all these Goliaths and then the new guys coming on board are all looking for ways to break out.”

Katzenberg and Quibi CEO Meg Whitman, the former CEO of Hewlett Packard Enterprise, will use a Wednesday keynote to provide details on Quibi, which is investing $1 billion on new shows, with backing by all the major movie studios.

Short for “quick bites,” the mobile-first service is designed to be watched for a just a few minutes at a time. Video programs are broken into 10 minute “chapters” — ideal for on-the-go viewers with limited attention spans.

Innovations to be shown at CES include allowing full-screen viewing regardless of how the phone is held. Normally, there’s wasted space when the phone is held vertically because video is typically horizontal. Quibi says viewers will be able to switch back and forth seamlessly, even in the middle of the program. Quibi also plans to automatically adjust a video’s lighting and bring up subtitles with a quick tap.

“We want to take a phone, a device that was not actually designed to watch video on, and make it into a great watching device,” Whitman said in an interview. “At CES there is a long history of technology enabling new ways to tell stories.”

Quibi will also preview some of its 20 new shows, including “Chrissy’s Court,” a Judge Judy-style show from Chrissy Teigen. It is also debuting with movies and other content like news and weather. Quibi launches April 6 for $5 a month with ads and $8 without.

NBC executives won’t offer more details on its upcoming Peacock service until Jan. 16. Instead, they will trot out “America’s Got Talent” host Terry Crews, “This is Us” star Mandy Moore and other NBC luminaries at CES to talk more generally about the future of TV and entertainment.

“Audiences don’t differentiate by screen anymore,” said Linda Yaccarino, chairman of advertising and partnerships at NBCUniversal. “They want and expect an on-demand, always-on world.”

Marc DeBevoise, chief digital officer of newly merged ViacomCBS, will discuss growing the digital properties from both CBS and Viacom, while executives from WarnerMedia will talk about their experience building HBO Max, set to debut in May. And Tubi CEO Farhad Massoudi will discuss how free, ad-supported services like his can survive the streaming wars.

As television companies experiment with making more shows available in more ways, they’ll also accumulate data on viewing habits far beyond what they got with over-the-air and cable channels. That will help them target advertising to viewers’ interests and make recommendations for other shows to keep viewers glued.

Companies will also test different pricing models in 2020, as they try to figure out how and how much consumers will be willing to pay. Is there a limit to how many services consumers will pay for? Will they adapt to separate prices with and without ads? Or will they flock to free services like Tubi, even if they lack original movies and TV shows?

Kevin Westcott, who heads Deloitte’s U.S. telecommunication, media and entertainment consulting business, said consumers are getting more choices and shows than ever, just as new technologies such as high-quality TV displays and faster 5G cellular networks come along.

The downside? “Too much choice and too much technological change all at one time could slow down people so they stick with what they have,” he said.

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