When asked what was big this year at CES, if you saw any of the keynote addresses, I think your answer would have to be Content: both with deals uniting tech and content companies, but also tech that used an intranet or the Internet to deliver content to consumers wherever they were and whenever they want.
At Bill Gates’s Keynote, he talked about how Microsoft software seamlessly transfers content to wherever the consumer wants to view it: whether two feet away on a computer display, ten feet away on a television display, or six inches away on a mobile display. He also introduced a new partnership for music (and assumably video) distribution called URGE with MTV, VH1, and CMT.
Sir Howard Stringer’s Keynote stressed how Sony was in a unique position being both a technology and content company. He discussed a handful of different segments of Sony’s business that united the two parts of the company—introducing a number of famous artists (Dan Brown, Ron Howard, Tom Hanks) to explain how technology empowers them. He ended his keynote with the following quote:
“Content and technology are strange bedfellows. We are joined together. Sometimes we misunderstand each other. But isn’t that after all the definition of marriage?”
Terry Semel’s Keynote promoted ideas of mobility, but more so from the vantage point of the consumer / creator, and how the Yahoo! Go technology would aid in that. With a Yahoo! account, photos taken on a camera phone would instantly show up on a computer or television display. A TiVo user who didn’t want to miss a show but had already left the house only needed to select the show from her mobile phone, and the Yahoo! Go system would ensure it was recorded. He also stressed that for all these technologies to work together, standards must be open, just like the Internet. He closed by saying that the walled garden approach won’t work anymore.
The last of the keynotes was delivered by Larry Page in a way that only Google’s Co-founder could present it. He addressed the first half of his keynote to innovators, asking them to examine everyday problems that had little to no relation his company, but would benefit the industry and the public at large. Later, of course, he discussed Google Video, which had up ‘til then provided anyone with a free online content distribution. At the keynote, he talked about how it could now be used by anyone to earn revenue, including big name partners like CBS and the NBA. Additionally, Google’s system can be formatted for download to popular consumer devices like the Apple iPod and Sony Playstation Portable (PSP). At the end, he stressed that the Internet was built and has grown to be a place of amazing innovation because of its openness.
Of course, this theme did not end at the keynotes, it was carried out in devices and technology on the floor of the show.
Independent developers like DigitalDeck and NewSoft showed devices that enable consumers to view content from their analog consumer electronics (DVD, VHS, cable boxes, etc) sent over the home network to other rooms of the house. They did this at a fairly low price because they built to industry standards and used off-the-shelf software and hardware.
XM introduced the Inno XM2go, a portable satellite radio with Pioneer at the show that allowed paying subscribers tag favorite songs and shows to “TiVo” at later times. The recorded music can only be listened to on the radio itself, but when connected to a computer, XM teamed up with Napster to provide music downloads based on the tagged content on the radio.
All of this new innovation and tech/media convergence rely on two things: marketplace (not government mandated) rights management and net neutrality.
What would happen to any of the great new technologies with an imposed broadcast flag? HD Radio protection? Or Analog Hole corking? None of them currently comply, and to reengineer them and submit them for government approval would be extremely costly. The smaller independent developers would likely close up shop. Consumers would have to pay an arm and a leg to upgrade and get the new devices to work with their current technologies. In the process, most aspects of these new innovations would be lost.
For the devices that connect to and send information over the Internet, their function relies on the ability to connect any device to the network. Their success depends on an unencumbered Internet that permits applications to work or content to flow freely over a consumer’s Internet connection. As Larry Page said, that’s the way the Internet has always worked. Despite comments made by broadband providers, hopefully the telecom policy will maintain this innovation-enabling net neutrality.