Welcome to CES!

Alex, Sherwin and I will spending most of this week at the International Consumer Electronics Show, otherwise known as CES. We’ll be trying to see what are the cool new technologies and trends and to consider their policy implications. The show is massive, the biggest trade show in the world, with nearly three thousand exhibits and 150,000+ attendees taking up the entire Las Vegas Convention Center and Sands Expo and Convention Center, as well as parts of the Hilton, Renaissance, and Venetian hotels.

While the main attraction is the show floor, the keynote speeches are also important, because it is a time when the world’s largest technology, media and related companies announce their most innovative plans for the coming year. At Public Knowledge, we are particularly interested in seeing whether any of the big content companies will come to the belly of the beast – at CES, the goals for copyright reform that PK espouses are treated with great respect and urgency by the consumer electronics industry faithful. These are the true friends of fair use – and any harangue about piracy, filtering, etc. (like that given by NBC CEO Robert Wright at last year’s NXTCOMM) is guaranteed to fall flat. Last year, two content CEOs gave terrific keynotes: Disney CEO Robert Iger and CBS CEO Les Moonves. Both made it clear that their companies’ approach to the piracy issue was to make more content available on more platforms and to give viewers flexibility to use and share their content.

This year there will be no keynote speech from Hollywood, the recording industry or other content company (although I hear that NBC is going to have a press event with AT&T to talk about the wonders of filtering the Internet). As has become practice over the past several years, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates will be the opening keynote speaker. He will be followed on Monday morning by CEA President and CEO (and longtime PK friend) Gary Shapiro and Panasonic AVC Networks Company President Toshihiro Sakamoto. Gary always gives a rousing speech at CES about fair use and digital freedom. Sakomoto, who heads the consumer electronics and PC manufacturing arm of Matsushita, will doubtless talk about the US transition to digital television, which is now just 13 months away. Monday afternoon's keynoter will be Intel CEO Paul Otellini.

On Tuesday morning, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts will speak. Like the content CEOs, Roberts will be on the hot seat, since the cable industry is embroiled with many segments of the consumer electronics industry over the standard for two-way cable programming. We write about it here and here. Put most simply: cable wants to control completely the viewer experience for two-way, and the CE companies want to be able to compete in that space as well. It will be interesting to see if Roberts addresses this issue. Interestingly, Comcast and its cable brethren (with the exception of Time Warner) tend to be aligned with the CE companies and PK on copyright issues, since their broadband Internet and digital video recorder services depend on broad and flexible use of copyrighted materials.

On Tuesday afternoon, General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner will close the keynotes. If you think that having a car manufacturer give a speech at CES is odd, you need only walk down to the “In-Vehicle Technology” section of CES to see why it makes perfect sense. That massive section (which I call the “Pimp My Ride” section) has car speakers that could blow the roof off your house, as well as car DVD players for every passenger, including the driver. Last year the GPS systems were among the most popular in this category, and I trust they will be again. I’m curious whether Wagoner will address the XM-Sirius merger, which has caused concern for auto manufacturers.

I’ll be blogging about some of the keynotes, walking the floor, and attending the many parties and dinners around town. The Digital Freedom Campaign has one on Monday and the big CEA Leaders in Technology Dinner is on Tuesday. I am still mourning the demise of the Verizon all-you-can eat sushi party at Nobu, which was cancelled this year. And I hear that neither AT&T nor Verizon have booths at CES this year. Perhaps they are saving all their money for the 700 MHz spectrum auction later this month? Speaking of wireless, I’ll be spending a lot of time at the booths for Nokia, LG and other cellphone manufacturers to see what functions their handsets can perform so that I can compare them later on with the functions the wireless companies will permit to operate.

More later….

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