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.

Overflowing ash tray in Las Vegas CES is over for another year. While exhibitor space hasn’t bounced all the way back yet, attendance returned to its pre-recession levels. Its traffic-paralyzing, restaurant-monopolizing, aisle-choking levels. Attendance wasn’t bad enough to make the show experience miserable, but the lines made everything take more time.

Here are a few quick notes from CES:

* CNet’s Best of Show award winner was the Motorola Xoom, an Android-based tablet that doesn’t actually exist yet. As a lovely lady demonstrated it at the Motorola booth, I learned that it’ll run an OS version that isn’t available, may or may not accept an SD or Micro SD card, and doesn’t have its default app set chosen yet. But when it’s finally ready, the Xoom is supposed to have great features.

There is ample precedent for such pre-production awards. In January 2009, CNet’s Best Home Video product from CES was the Dish Network 922 receiver with Sling technology. The 922 barely made it to market before the end of 2009. Turns out that it really is that good, though, so maybe a real Xoom will eventually be worth the wait?

* One of my blog posts won a contest at CES. No, it wasn’t the previous post about CES. It wasn’t anything from this blog. This was a contest run by the non-profit Internet Innovation Alliance, and those folks judged my post there to be better than anything else written at their booth. Woo hoo! (If you want to read Lawrence Lessig’s The Future of Ideas, you can learn how to download a free copy.)

* There was almost nothing about free-to-air satellite TV this year. Tele-Satellite magazine had a booth, although it was unmanned when I stopped by on the show’s last day. (More on that below.) Maybe one or two vendors on the regular show floor showed any equipment. That’s a big change from the days when new FTA set-top boxes would debut at CES.

* Sunday at CES is garbage day. For the first time, I stayed to the final day of the show to see whether exhibitors would dump all of their giveaways to avoid carting them home. Answer: Not very often. The best part was that the lines were short enough to let me see any show at any exhibit. The worst part was that many dealers were closing up early, and most of those remaining were feeling run down after a long show. There was little to suggest the enthusiasm that swirls around the opening of CES.

* I feel sorry for the folks who signed up for CEA’s new Tech Enthusiast program just to visit CES. That program benefit isn’t worth much; readers here know that anyone can get in to see CES for free with only a little work. And worst of all, that admittance is only good on Sunday.

Todd Weaver, founder of ivi.tvProgram note: This blog post comes to you from the Hub at the NBC Universal booth at CES. Thanks for inviting me!

Todd Weaver, founder and head of ivi.tv, paused after his second panel session here at CES to let us in on what’s up and what’s next with our favorite streaming TV service.

First, and most importantly, Weaver said that the folks in Washington were very receptive to ivi when he visited them a couple of months ago. “All lawmakers want more competition,” he said, and many of them were troubled by the pending NBC-Comcast merger. Interestingly, when the news got out that Weaver going to visit, local broadcasters called to lobby their representatives against ivi.

The FCC was also positive, in its own way, by saying that it wouldn’t take jurisdiction over ivi’s distribution system. “We had great access to all of the commissioners’ staffs,” Weaver said. In general, “It’s going to take years for the government to catch up with what we’re doing.”

The second-most important issue is the status of ivi’s legal challenges. That status seems to be unchanged. The media companies insist on trying their case in New York, where they filed, rather than Seattle, where ivi filed to show that it was not violating copyright law. But the judge in New York wants to wait to see what happens in the Seattle case.

A few more quick notes:

  • ivi’s next market will be Philadelphia, Comcast’s back yard. “We’re just taking the next biggest market in order, but I like the irony.”
  • Biggest surprise at launch: “Consumers wanted to use us on a 50-inch LCD.” ivi plans to start adding 720p HD feeds to some channels soon.
  • Don’t hold your breath waiting for the ivi Apple app. “It’s in legal review.” Which may or may not have anything to do with Apple’s TV partnerships. The Android app should come sooner, then maybe a Roku app.
  • Full DVR functionality should arrive around the end of March. “It will have appropriate pricing,” greater than the 99 cents/month for the current rewind/pause/fast forward.
  • “We expect to be profitable in less than six months.” Woohoo!

A CES 2010 booth with lots of TV screens

This 2010 photo of a medium-sized booth at CES hints at what it's like there. Each of those rectangles is a flat‑screen TV. They're all pretty big.

It’s Consumer Electronics Show time again! This will be my fifth CES, but it’s the first when I won’t be there at the opening. I’ve always wanted to see what the exhibit floor looks like as they’re closing up shop (are exhibitors flinging leftover swag to avoid carting it home?), and this is the year I plan to find out.

Even though this blog has pointed out how anyone can get a free ticket to CES, you probably aren’t going this year. If you don’t live near Las Vegas, or you don’t want to spend the travel money, that’s understandable. But if you’ve never been to CES or Comdex or any other truly huge convention, you’re missing out on a unique experience.

Some of the booths are literally stunning. Huge video displays can stretch 100 feet wide. When you come across one of these, you pause to take in the intense visual stimulation. Then you see that several attendees next to you are taking pictures of the display. Trouble is, the booths are too huge and too close together to get a decent photo of such elaborate displays. You just get to remember them.

(The photo with this post is from last year. That’s definitely not the largest video display, but it gives you an idea of the busy aisles, the soft booth carpeting, the elaborate presentation, and folks trying to take pictures of it.)

Some large booths stage periodic seminars (more like infomercials) about their favorite products. Some bring in celebrities to sign autographs for long lines of fans. (Hey! I got my photo taken with Stan Lee last year!) There’s a large, loud area for vendors of automotive add-ons. Many exhibitors will give you a pen or a bag or some other small memento, and there are lots of drawings for real prizes.

Ever been to a casino? The slot machines all have tall, winking displays, melodic sounds, and occasional electronic shouting. (Wheel! Of! Fortune!) Well, after a few hours at CES, I often drop in at the Hilton casino next door to relax. It’s much quieter and calmer than the show. That should tell you something.

If you are coming to CES this year, please be sure to read my earlier convention survival guide, and you might be able to find me at the CES Tweetup Friday night. If not, consider making plans for next year. CES is a hoot!