Tune in for what’s new, big and relevant to news media from CES this year
Tune in for what’s new, big and relevant to news media from CES this year

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas this week featured 150,000 people, 3,600 exhibitors across three convention centers, utilising 2.2 million square feet of space. 

Overwhelming for a first-timer like me, I distilled four big themes from my interactions in exhibits, conference sessions, briefings, and hallways: 

  • Connectivity: More and more power is shifting to the consumer with wearables, connected cars, and ever-smarter television units in addition to mobile and desktop computing.
  • Personal data center: The game is increasingly about how to connect to wearables, cars, and homes likely via a mobile device that is a data center. Big Data is becoming more about anticipatory computing. And this will have an impact on advertising and couponing.
  • Access vs. ownership: The ethos of renting rather than owning is overtaking all industries – from real estate to cars to cable TV to renting content vs. paying for subscription services. (Hint: subscriptions are winning.)
  • Proliferation of screens as devices proliferate: There is a general belief that screens are trying to do too many things, ranging from smarter TVs to tablets and smartphones. Deciphering what the consumer wants to do on each screen is part of the mystery playing out before our eyes. 

What did I find relevant to news media executives reinventing themselves for the Digital Age? Think of these less as big themes as outliers that stuck:

  1. Wearables: There were too many vendors playing in the same limited space and not enough differentiation. I don’t think wrist wearables will have the resonance that we think they will other than being a gadget – at first.

    But the bigger issue of sensors everywhere will take the consumer further and further away from the kitchen table, TV, computer, and land-line phone. This will further morph consumer mindsets as untethered to anything. 

  2. Renting instead of owning: There is something there for news publishers in the slowdown of music downloads and the uptick of music subscription services. Maybe it plays to digital subscriptions. That this is pronounced among young adults is interesting.

  3. User content instead of personalisation: To hear the brightest minds choke on the idea of personalisation as too complex in brand development startled me. One speaker said that we’ve moved from ages of identity, value, and now experience. And that with all the technology on display at CES, personalisation was just too much.

    Instead, it was suggested that the rise of people creating content for themselves (and companies packaging that) could be an interesting substitute for personalisation concepts.

  4. De-linking editorial as a targeting mechanism: Never to be heard at a media conference was a discussion about de-linking editorial as a targeting mechanism for advertisers. Now with programmatic, advertisers can buy demographics without an editorial environment. “Programmatic takes away the complexity of legacy media,” a speaker said. This disconnect of editorial + audience it delivers got a chilly reception. 

  5. What newspapers have to do with the U.S. National Football League (NFL): Maybe this is just a personal favourite, but an NFL executive said the core challenge in content development across platforms is not how to optimise Sundays when everyone is plugged in. It is what to deliver fans the other six days of the week. Sound familiar, newspapers? 

  6. Screen confusion: The experts across industries were genuinely baffled by screen sizes: TVs, smartphones, tablets, phablets (iPhone 6 outselling 6+ by 3-to-1 margin). Different behaviours are seen on different screens. General consensus is that the smartphone is the default screen. 

  7. Device connectivity: The Internet of Things may be the big investment – connecting home devices with each other – but it is the investments by companies like Microsoft in mobile inter-operability that drew my interest.

    How can the smartphone, tablet, laptop, desktop, and maybe even TV be connected in a way to be both native and sharing (think a Netflix movie you stopped on your computer that your TV knows where you left off)? 

  8. Who does Big Data right: Marketing will be the biggest beneficiary of Big Data because it is no longer a “cost” now that it can demonstrate ROI.

    Entertainment and consumer packaged goods are doing Big Data poorly. Financial services, retail, and automotive are on the cutting edge of analytics. Disney, Starbucks, Audi, Nordstrom’s, and Netflix are the leaders in Big Data, from customising experiences to the follow-through post-ownership to mass personalisation.

Should you book your ticket for Las Vegas and the 2016 CES show next January? Honestly, it’s too overwhelming to even be considered a normal conference. It’s a meat market of ideas – which is fine if you can cull the experience. I would do it again for targeted opportunities and tight time windows. Plan, plan, plan ahead like you’ve never planned before. 

Yet while I can’t recommend an individual go to CES, I think the news industry could use a bigger public relations presence.

I was struck by the utter absence of executives from newspaper media at CES. No doubt some were there, but Gannett played a lonely role representing our industry to a world of technology leaders.

I was also struck by the fact that news media, in general, was absent from conversations. I’m told that is the nature of the beast at CES. We are a throwaway line in a world still led by Hollywood and Madison Avenue.

The worlds of newspapers and magazines are cocoons in the larger media ecosystem that is now dominated by all things digital. CES was worth the trip just to see that fact up close and personal.