I promised myself that this year, at the International CES, I wouldn’t take photos of the zillion iPhone cases on display. If you wanted to see that, you’ll just have to content yourself with last year’s set. Instead, I’ll close the book on CES 2015 with truly useful insight.
Not my insight, of course. In this case, it came from a conference session called “InternetTV – The Disruption – Skinny TV – Mega Premium”. CES has plenty of conference tracks, but in general I find that the speakers at conference sessions either tell me what I already know or merely promote their companies’ initiatives, usually just new products or services. But this session ran before the show floor opened and at the same time as the opening keynote address. Unfortunately, I’ve never encountered a newsworthy CES keynote.
This conference session was better than most. The panelists discussed changing consumer behavior both caused by and driving internet-based TV viewing, especially as it related to the pay-TV bundle. Downplaying reports of widespread cord-cutting, Michael Goodman, Director of Digital Media for Strategy Analytics, said that millennials have always watched less TV and were less likely to subscribe to pay TV. In support of pay-TV bundles, Jeff Binder, CEO of Layer3 TV, said, “I think that consumers have not changed a whole lot. Each household has different constituents that watch different channels.” That echoed an earlier statement by TiVo’s Evan Young, who said, “Consumers are not monolithic. It’s different if you’re single.”
Later, the panelists discussed the economics of multi-channel TV, largely agreeing the the content owners ultimately, albeit indirectly, set the price to consumers. Goodman saw that, for example, Netflix’s low-cost contracts with content owners would all eventually require renewal and renegotiation. “Netflix is not going to cost $9-10 (per month) a year from now,” he said. “It’ll be $20 or $30.”
It was all surprisingly meaty, interesting discussion about the always unknowable future, with equal doses of inevitable change and unyielding status quo. But it was Kris Alexander, Chief Strategist at Akamai, who distilled the future of TV into one sentence. When it comes to competing TV systems, Alexander said, discovery and curation are critical.
That was a great thought to keep in my head for the rest of the show. When Tablo, Channel Master, TiVo and even SiliconDust were showing off their latest, they all were looking to offer new channels and suggestions to the viewer. When I would mention those two keys to the TV future, exhibitors would pause, then nod in appreciation for that clear vision.
As we move toward free TV (as in free speech, not free beer) where every viewer can choose what to watch and when to watch it, the winning viewing platform will be the one with the easiest interface and the best suggestions. I’m looking forward to seeing what comes out on top.