What a way to start the year – running around Las Vegas with more than 175,000 of my closest friends.
But that’s CES – one of the most amazing experiences and assaults on the senses you can imagine. CES’s parent organization – the Consumer Technology Association – tells us this year’s gathering took up more than 2.6 million net square feet, featuring more than 3,800 companies. In innovative Eureka Park alone, more than 600 startups showed off their wares.
How can you even fathom an event of this magnitude, much less get something out of it? This year, Paul and I brought a group of broadcast executives for a Friday afternoon tour. The idea was proposed to us by Cox Media Group radio head, Bill Hendrich, and with the help of CTA, we took it from there.
His concept was for us to create a tour that would “make CES smaller for a radio executive.” Given the vastness of this convention – covering the entire Las Vegas Convention Center, as well as several other casino hotels spread out all over The Strip – we think we hit goal. We appreciate and congratulate the broadcast execs who took the plunge and joined us for our first ever Jacobs CEO/CES Tour.
So for those of you weren’t there, I know the first question always goes something like this:
“What was the coolest gadget you saw at CES?”
And as we’ve learned over the years, that’s not really the essence of this event. The value of CES isn’t about a single innovation, toy, or device. It’s about spending time in the most innovative atmosphere you can imagine, taking it all in, and increasing your broader understanding of the world around us.
That’s because technology is so rapidly changing our lives, our businesses, and our careers. It was all on display at CES. Just about every gadget on the floor has gotten “smart,” allowing it to connect with other devices. The Internet of Things is a reality, as homes, cars, and yes, even umbrellas can talk to each other.
And to that end, one of the most common names were heard at CES wasn’t Apple, Samsung, LG, or Google.
It was Alexa.
In case there wasn’t one of these nifty devices under your tree this year, you may not be familiar with Amazon Echo, the voice command device that’s changing the way we interact with technology and devices. We’ve been writing about this shift in this blog over the past many months, and we saw it come to life at CES last week.
Alexa is providing a universal interactive language, and companies are adopting this technology in much the same way the iPhone enabled just about every device at this conference just a few short years ago. Of course, smartphone apps are still ubiquitous at CES, but spoken commands are powering an important shift that everyone in broadcasting should be aware of. In exhibit after exhibit, Alexa was at the center of communication with home appliances like refrigerators, washer/dryers, home security systems, and other devices.
And that includes robots. There were everywhere at CES, and the trend appears to be humanizing them. Just about every robot we saw had eye and facial expressions – clearly, the Pixar effect. And how do you communicate with them? Voice commands, what else?
Even Ford has added Alexa to its dashboard arsenal, yet another sign that our future is speaking to our devices rather than typing away on keyboards.
And that leads me to another CES trend: the pervasiveness of the car. And I’m not just talking about the record number of automakers who were on hand at CES. I spent time with the NAB’s President and CEO, Gordon Smith, who made this spot-on observation after spending time on the convention floor:
“There’s a car in every exhibit.”
Whether the product was audio, artificial intelligence, or 3D printing, a hot car was present in display after display. Between autonomous cars, our connected lives, and an increased emphasis on music and sound, the automobile is at the center of it all.
That’s a great segue for the explosiveness of audio. At a press conference from Monster (maker of reimagined boom boxes), it was clear just how audio and music are enjoying an amazing resurgence. At a Spotify sponsored panel, Pete Blackshaw, Nestle’s Global Digital Chief, had this to say:
“Audio is the epicenter of consumer attention.”
The audio renaissance was on display everywhere at CES, and yet, outside of HD Radio (and a beautiful, updated display space by DTS), broadcast radio was not a part of this renewed emphasis in the audio sector. We happened across Sylvania’s exhibit (yes, they still exist), and found an industrial-style radio (pictured at right), good for work sites, for just under $100. Beyond that, radio was not invited to this megawatt consumer electronics party.
We saw high-end new turntables and sound systems from a resurrected Technics brand, proudly unveiled by parent Panasonic. And keyboards and modular music being created before our very eyes by ROLI. From old school vinyl to amazing new digitally powered music, there was no shortage of devices and technology for consumers who enjoy listening to or creating their own tunes and compositions.
Four days of CES provides the opportunity to not just talk about technology trends, but to experience them. It’s an event that is a test of stamina and attention span, not to mention sore feet. But in the end, it is an experience like no other.
We ended our tour at the Gibson exhibit, where more than 100 guitars aren’t just on display – you can pick them up and play them. Our group of radio execs got a chance to wind down, pick up one of those axes, have a beer, and start thinking about what all this technology means to the radio business, and why it’s so important for broadcasters to personally take in this spectacle.
Seth Resler, our aptly named Digital Dot Connector, joined us at CES 2017. He was invited to create a podcast by the Consumer Technology Association, the organization that puts on CES. In the coming weeks and months, you’ll hear Seth’s “CES For Radio Broadcasters” podcasts, providing you with more flavor from this amazing show.
We will also be putting together a webinar for the RAB scheduled for next month. It will talk about the key trends we identified at this year’s show, and why they’re important to radio. Stay tuned for that.
Will we be back for our 9th annual CES in 2017?
That’s a done deal, encouraged by a consummate radio broadcaster, Jerry Lee. As we have these past few years, Jerry, Paul, and I shared breakfast at Lucky’s inside the Convention Center, exchanging notes, observations, and a few laughs. For Jerry, this was his 49th CES. As he told us a couple of years ago, there’s a reason why he wouldn’t even think of taking a year off these expensive and challenging Vegas excursions:
“I don’t want to miss the future.”
Neither do we.
Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys.
In 2008, jacapps was launched - a mobile apps company that has designed and built more than 1,000 apps for both the Apple and Android platforms. In 2013, the DASH Conference was created - a mashup of radio and automotive, designed to foster better understanding of the "connected car" and its impact.
Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media's commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment.