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EVERYTHING CONNECTS: What Can CES Tell Us About The Future Of Content?

Posted By Lori H. Schwartz, Thursday, January 28, 2016

You don’t have to be a self-professed "geek girl” to understand that technology is fundamentally changing the way we live our lives, use our homes, perform our jobs and ultimately how we pursue our life interests. And there’s no tradeshow that better demonstrates where technology is going than CES®, which stands for the Consumer Electronics Show. This past January, more than 170,000 people, with 50,000 coming from outside the U.S., headed to Las Vegas to attend this internationally known week-long event that’s focused on electronics and technology.

This year, the show grew tremendously, with more then 3,800 exhibitors and more than 2.47 million net square feet of exhibit space at both the Las Vegas Convention Center, The Sands Expo and The Aria at City Center. Most people return home from CES® with great insights, an overwhelming hunger to buy and implement a lot of new tech into their lives and very sore feet and backs.

Understanding what happens on the show floor is critical to every business and especially the content business, as show runners, filmmakers and storytellers of all kinds strive to leverage technology for the efficient production of content but also to understand the implications this technology will have on our lives.

No organization understands the impact the technology is having more then the CTATM, (formally CEA®), which runs CES®. In November the association dropped electronics from its 15-year-old name and replaced it with technology.

"Our membership and the consumer technology sector have grown and evolved to engage almost every major industry segment and America’s burgeoning startup economy, touching almost every part of consumers’ lives,” said Gary Shapiro, President and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association. "Our new name—the Consumer Technology Association—more accurately represents this growth and the excitement and innovative spirit of the industry we represent.”

Oh, That Internet of Things

Remember the movie Her? By 2020, the number of Internet-connected devices is expected to reach a staggering 50 billion—with 6.1 billion smartphone users, a quarter of a billion connected cars and 10.2 million units of smart clothing. This marks the shift away from the Internet, and the access of any kind of content being defined by clicking in a browser, using a remote control or even physically handling any type of media to view music or videos. Our world is moving towards a pervasive connectivity to the consumption of media that will that reach throughout our homes, vehicles, offices, malls, hospitals, and practically wherever else we interact.

At CES 2016, the "Internet of Things” (IOT) was at the heart of Eureka Park, the startup destination at the show. There were 500 startup companies in the Eureka Park Marketplace, up from 375 in 2015. Organized by incubators and accelerators like Tech Stars, TechCrunch and Indiegogo, by countries like France and Israel and by technology solutions like 3D printing and wearables, Eureka Park is a wonderland of new ideas: Since its inception in 2012, the companies debuting their presence at CES have raised more than $1 billion in investments.

Microelectromechanical Systems (MEMS) are tiny pieces of tech that integrate both mechanical and electrical components to "report” on the physical world around us. They are comprised of miniature tech that senses their environment. These "sensors” are the backbone of all the devices that are springing out of the IOT world. The first sensors that came to market in consumer devices are those in your phone: cameras, accelerometers and light sensors. As sensors continue to get cheaper and more efficient, more complex devices will come to market.

Throughout the week a number of contests and "battlefields” were held where entrepreneurs went head to head pitching the value proposition of their ideas. These "pitchfests” are fast becoming theatrical experiences (see ABC’s Shark Tank) as our cultural appetite for tech startups as entertainment grows (see HBO’s Silicon Valley). For content producers, innovative solutions for capturing media and better, smaller, more efficient accessories were everywhere, including new types of screens like Corning’s extremely bendable glass which could also display images and respond to touch. Sphericam, a very cool camera startup, won TechStar’s pitch competition for "IOT and Wearables.” In a year where virtual reality has captured the heart of Hollywood, this beautiful round camera delivers, recording spherical video in 4K resolution for playback on VR headsets with the simple push of a button. Little jewels like this camera are found throughout the show, though you have to mine the floor to find them.

Content Discovery Will Be Heard

Amazon’s cloud-based voice assistant Alexa (like Siri , Google Now and Scarlett Johannson’s Samantha), first came to market as the "personal assistant” inside of the company’s Echo speaker and was showing up everywhere on the floor as an operating system that integrated third-party devices. My 6-year-old took to it right away. At its simplest, it’s a voice interface for accessing content throughout your home or any other environment where there’s an Alexa device. You can play music, listen to podcasts, have a Kindle book read to you and of course, order products on Amazon all through vocal commands. My daughter loves to ask for the soundtrack to My Little Pony’s Equestria Girls; she doesn’t have to think about the channel or platform, she just asks for what she wants to hear. Increasingly, consumers will be coming to expect that same seamless interaction with content.

Product Placement Gone Wild

A company called Trakr demonstrated the future of products in a connected home. Trakr has low-energy Bluetooth (BLE) tags, little pieces of plastic often called "beacons,” that attach to different "things” in your life. These beacons can ping your phone and tell you where that "thing” is located. You can literally find anything that has the beacon tag attached … Think "find my iPhone” but for your glasses case, your purse, your husband. (Not kidding.) Trakr is partnering with companies like Hewlett-Packard, Cross Pens and Royce Leather to build the beacon inside the product, so you don’t have to have tags hanging everywhere. At CES, it announced integration with Alexa so you can use vocal commands to activate Trakr. Think of the implications to storytellers, including brands, when the everyday items we use start generating information about how we use them.

Alexa, where are my keys?
"Your keys are located in the living room.”

These integrations are all financed by Amazon’s Alexa Fund, which is a program to fuel voice-technology innovation.

Data is the New Co-Star

Wearables were the first example of IOT that came into the public consciousness more than a year ago and are finally to moving away from chunky plastic bracelets that track activity to more sophisticated sensor-equipped clothing, tattoos and even ingestible sensors for monitoring and diagnosis. The data that all these devices are creating is impacting every area of life from healthcare decisions, smart appliances and smart homes, to gaming and entertainment, and even channel surfing.

Vert, a sports technology company, has already taken it to the next level by generating real-time data that becomes content in sports broadcasts. VertCast is Vert’s wearable jump monitoring device. In last fall’s NCAA Division Women’s Volleyball Championship, the athletes wearing VertCast had their jump height data shown in real-time on ESPN2. The data not only became a point of conversation for the sportscasters but also for the other athletes and fans watching at home; ultimately, data becomes a character, a relevant figure in the experience of the game. Soon, with interactive overlays and other "lean in” technologies on connected screens, wearables can create direct audience engagement with their favorite celebrities and sports stars.

When The Screen Is The Thing

In the world of IOT, "things” don’t just do one thing, they do many. Beam at first glance, is an LED light bulb that fits into any light socket, but it’s really a "smart” projector. Screw the Beam device into a light socket and it turns any surface into a screen. Its projector has a small computer that works with an Apple or Android based app and streams content over Wi-Fi, meaning you can throw any video or image content you want from your phone to that Beam projector. And like many IOT device companies, Beam’s vision is to become part of a larger ecosystem, where multiple beams are working to bring "infotainment whenever, wherever.”

Virzoom, a connected bike, actually connects to a virtual-reality head display so that your bike riding seems to take place inside of immersive environments or settings. As you pedal, you could be riding a horse or flying on a dragon or just riding a bike, but in the Tour de France. Is it a game? Is it VR? Is it exercise …? The reality, virtual or not, is that when things get connected, they evolve and become something else. Very quickly we will be living in a world where any surface can hold content, generating countless opportunities for storytellers to connect with their audiences.

Partnerships are the New Black

In a world buoyed by sensors, software, devices and great design, can any one company do it alone? This new world requires partnerships. On the show floor, Fitbit demoed its new Blast watch—its direct competitor to the Apple Watch—but the most crowded area of its booth was the case with Fitbits designed by Tory Birch, which look like works of art.

Under Armour, the clothing manufacturer, has become quite a content brand with a number of partnerships. One such collaboration was with HTC to create Healthbox, a fitness platform which features smart hardware, including a sports band that tracks data on sleep and daily physical activity and a Wi-Fi-equipped scale to measure weight and body fat percentage. It fits into its larger business play to own the complete journey towards fitness, as they’ve strategically bought a number of applications to put inside of the Under Armour Connected Fitness™ platform, a suite of applications in the digital health and fitness space (UA Record, MapMyFitness, Endomondo and MyFitnessPal).Under Armour hosted a plethora of athletes and Olympians at its booth as well, including Tony Romo, Michael Phelps, Buster Posey and Cal Ripken Jr. There’s a race to own fitness and all the other data connected to the measurement of self. This software, hardware and design elements are, taken together, a bridge to a world where data can be used for medical insights, emotional responses to content experiences and even tracking the speed of which you fly on a virtual quidditch broom.

Is That Really a Toy?

Unlocking IP is another benefit to a connected world where fictional characters and settings can now be more deeply integrated into the fans experience.

Disney is a major player in the "tech IP” space and having survived another holiday season with my daughter, I can tell you there were a number of connected toys that were hard to pass up. The Disney Store featured artificial intelligent toys from its Disney Animators Collection (a flounder, an Olaf and a Stitch). These toys respond to specific lines of dialogue from their host movies, based on a series of vocal prompts. Of course, the hottest toy this year, spun off from the biggest box-office success to date, was a replica of 

the BB-8 droid from Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Sphero’s BB-8, a tiny copy of the robot from the movie was a version of a Sphero remote control ball. The company is well known for creating gyroscopic balls that connect to an app and receive new commands from the cloud. Sphero’s BB-8 can autonomously move throughout your home or office and showcase a number of pre-programmed movements and respond to voice commands. At $150 dollars, it was selling out everywhere. It brought the movie home in a way that an analog toy could never have done.

All that said, the folks running the show know that clever as technology may be, tech alone will not deliver an audience. "The technology is in service of the story and to kind of create the magic, but it’s not there to be front and forward,” said Michael White, Senior VP and CTO of Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media, at the CES® Panel, Making Disney Magic: Connecting Digital and Physical Worlds. "If we do our jobs right, you never see the technology.” 


- top illustration by Elena Lacey

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