Cool logo for CES 2013Speaking of trade shows, August 31 is the first deadline to register for a free pass to the exhibit halls at the International CES. Judging from the room rates, they’re expecting an ever bigger crowd than last year’s, so they might actually stop giving out free passes next month. If you think there’s any chance at all that you might be able to attend, the smart move is to sign up now. If you can’t make it, no worries.

Of course, “CES is not open to the general public. To attend, you must be affiliated professionally with the consumer electronics (CE) industry.” Heh. To learn how to professionally affiliate yourself for the cost of a few business cards, read my earlier post.

To register, just go to the CES site and click through. The email I got suggested Priority Code LC14, but your mileage may vary. And if you’re going, you should book a hotel now too; if you can’t make it, you can typically cancel in December and get your money back. If you want to go really cheap, stay downtown at the Fremont (or any similar decent hotel there) and ride the city bus.  My choice for convenience, quality, and price is the Riviera on the other side of the convention center parking lot. I think it’s great to be able to walk back to my room to drop off heavy convention swag and take a midday break.

When last we left this blog, it was almost time for the NAB Show, the annual event produced by the National Association of Broadcasters.

NAB president Gordon Smith presented the keynote speech at the convention. As I’ve written before, I think Smith is perfect for the job, keeping various broadcaster constituents on the same page while using his Washington connections to lobby for the best possible deal for his members. Anyway, a few minutes in, a part of his speech gave my brain whiplash.

(W)e will continue to protect the rights of all viewers who depend on their local TV stations as a lifeline for news, emergency information and, of course, entertainment.

We’re also fighting to ensure that viewers continue to have dynamic content choices, by retaining a free market retransmission consent process.

Notice that there aren’t any ellipses in that quote. Smith really said in consecutive sentences that TV broadcasters are an indispensable lifeline for their viewers, but if the local cable system won’t pay broadcasters enough, they’ll feel free to cut off those viewers.

I don’t blame Smith for stating both of those positions; they highlight the conflict that broadcasters face when they alternately defend their free bandwidth and resist calls to fix the retransmission consent system. I just thought it was a little weird to juxtapose them. He wasn’t going for irony there.

Smith seemed a little distracted. He gamely read the speech from the teleprompters, and the next morning, he was caught looking by a change-up thrown by Betty White. (See next paragraph.) It’s as though he had been working on an important negotiation and had to fly in at the last minute.

Betty White at an NAB breakfastThe second day featured a morning breakfast with TV legend Betty White, who accepted praise graciously, then went to sit down and chat with Smith. They talked about how the industry had changed, about perseverance, that sort of thing. Then Smith, no doubt reaching for a note someone had given him said, “I hear that you’re quite a football fan.” White looked at him as if he had suggested that she kept a cage of squirrels in her house. “No,” was her simple answer. Smith recovered, but we all learned that Betty White does not suffer foolish questions.

There was a lot of other stuff, of course, mostly in the exhibit halls.

  • I met Crook and Chase at a booth for The Nashville Network (launching soon), and I told them about my First Rule of Programming, of which the original TNN was a prime example. (“We are going to have some cooking shows,” Lorianne Crook said in agreement.)
  • There was a big push for mobile DTV, mainly in the form of Dyle TV, but it remains a technology in search of an audience.
  • All the satellite delivery companies were there, and lots of streaming providers. I talked with TVU Networks, since I’m broadcasting a test channel through TVU, but they’re much more interested in selling IP-based newsgathering gear. Much more about that in a future post.
  • I ran into Alexander Wiese, the publisher of Tele-satellite magazine, at his booth. He dropped by FTAList world headquarters the next week and took some photos, but I haven’t seen them in virtual print yet.

Every year, I visit the NAB Show and the International CES. (Don’t you dare call it the Consumer Electronics Show, see the editors note here.) If you want to see the latest Dish or DirecTV receivers, or if you just want to see the latest amazing gadgetry, go to CES. If you want to learn the most about the cutting edge of TV and video delivery, nothing beats the NAB Show. I’m looking forward to it already.

Drawing robot at a deskI’ve been back from CES for a couple of weeks now, and I think I’m finally over it. Sure enough, there were record crowds, so I was right about that. Best highlights:

  • Justin Bieber appeared at the TOSY Robotics booth. I would have thought that the over-18 attendee requirement would have locked out his fans, but there was a modest crowd forming as I walked past. I was more impressed by their drawing robot (pictured here). I wonder if these folks saw Hugo?
  • Earth, Wind & Fire performed a stunning, underpromoted 30-minute set on the Sony campus. (Seriously, I’ve been to other shows that were smaller than just the Sony booth.) Now we’re talking my generation.
  • Dream Multimedia, the folks behind the Dreambox FTA receiver, had a booth. The folks there said they’re planning a push into North America. More on that in a future post here.

Unlike some previous years, I attended CES as just a plain old “industry affiliate”. There’s no magic to this; if you want to go next year, I already told you how you can qualify. If you want to know what it’s like to attend CES as press, Rob Beschizza explained it well in a post a couple of days ago at BoingBoing. I would only add that if you’re not press, you don’t need to come on Day 0 (as he puts it), which means that you need at least Day 2 to see everything on the floor. Day 3 is probably unnecessary, and Day 4 is garbage day, as I said last year.

More photos from the show:

Giant plush Hopper advertising Dish Network in front of CES

Dish Network pulled out all the stops in promoting its new Hopper whole-house technology. In addition to this 25-foot plush in front of CES, Dish had huge ads in the official programs and billboard trucks circling the show.

Little DirecTV dish on huge uplink trailer

Radiation Hazard? Not for this little DirecTV dish. Do you suppose that sign was meant for the huge satellite uplink trailer instead?

Woman on CES Show Floor dressed as The Stump. That's right, like a tree stump.

Easily the most frightening thing I encountered at CES this year. This woman wandered the show floor promoting The Stump, which is an iPad stand. You can watch video of her in action here but don't blame me if it gives you nightmares too.

crowd at CES 2011

The crowd was pretty thick at CES in 2011 (pictured). Looks like even more will attend this year.

Once again, it’s time to get ready for the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Over the years, I’ve learned to predict attendance based on Las Vegas hotel rates. During the worst of the recession, room rates started at a normal price and went down as the show drew closer. Sure enough, attendance declined. Last year, rooms started a little high and stayed there. Attendance was back to pre-recession levels. This year, it’s crazy.

Every official CES hotel is sold out, at least at the CES rate. The big hotels on the strip are available, but at a price. Per night, the Mirage is $674, the MGM Grand is $613, and even the lowly (but convenient) Riviera is $499.

Downtown used to be a safe haven; the official CES buses don’t go there, but the city bus (#108) does. A few years ago, I had a nice room at the Fremont for $40/night. Now it’s sold out. The Golden Nugget is available at $284/night. Even the Four Queens is $229/night.

This all means two things. First, if you’re coming, I hope you already lined up a reasonable hotel rate. Second, attendance at CES will be incredible. Last year’s crowd was enough to reduce Las Vegas to a snail’s pace. There were long, long lines for cabs, at monorail stations, and at most restaurants. This year will probably be worse. Have fun, but be prepared.

(If you do still need a room, the best under $100/night right now looks like Sam’s Town, which has a shuttle to Harrahs. From there, you can hope to get on the monorail to the convention center, or you can walk across the strip to the Mirage, where you can catch a CES bus.)


NAB Public Service bannerHere at the NAB Show in Las Vegas, the hottest topic is the FCC’s desire to take away some TV channel space and convert it to wireless internet spectrum. That would be good for a future of ubiquitous internet access, but not so good for the bumped stations and their viewers.

In defending their position, various NAB spokesmen bring up the same arguments. Broadcasters serve their local audiences in times of emergency. They provide local weather, news, and community support in a way no national network or web service can.

There’s nothing wrong with those points, but I’m surprised that I never hear the most compelling reason to keep OTA stations on the air: They serve people who can’t afford to pay for TV.

Imagine a working mom just barely scraping by. You want her kids to have educational programming to help them succeed in school. You want her to be able to relax when she has an hour off to watch something entertaining and diverting. You don’t want to make her pay $50/month for basic cable or satellite TV.

I wonder why no one at the NAB talks about this great public service to the needy. Could it be that some people believe that anyone without enough cash doesn’t deserve TV? There must be some reason, but I just don’t know what it is.

In my next post tomorrow evening, I’ll talk about the Big Question of the future of satellite TV. See you then.