Content is still king: Consumer Electronics Week reveals audience appetites
The Consumer Electronics Association (www.ce.org), the trade group that represents the more than 2,000 companies that operate in the $195 billion-a-year business (in the U.S. alone) recently presented its 2012 CE Week in New York. Spanning more than 48,000 square feet (4,460 sq. m.) of exhibit space for goods, games and gadgets, the late-June industry and media get-together featured a series of technology events across the city, including the CEA Line Shows, Digital Downtown Conference, Eureka Park Challenge and Mobile Apps Showdown (http://ceweekny.com). Film Journal International attended some of the conference sessions and product showcases to check out the “competition” in the home.
Right away, we must mention a qualifier. With tablet-pads (U.S. households own an average of 1.4 tablets), Ultrabooks and ever smarter phones (which will surpass all other computing devices including tablets in 2012), along with mobile super-power speakers and chargers, wireless headsets and related protective armor (never mind the abundance of apps), consumers get their entertainment fix just about everywhere today. Fittingly, one of the seminars was about “Gadgets for Every Demographic” and proceeded to explain how they are no longer for “pubescent or pubescent-minded boys” alone. “Now they are ideal for moms, grandparents, kids, and even the family pet.”
While the latter certainly continue to prefer real, chewable toys, the Entertainment Software Association concurrently issued a report about virtual games (www.thesa.com). Nearly half of all American homes have a videogame console, “and more Americans than ever” are playing videogames on smartphones (30+%, up from 20% in 2011) as well as tablets and handheld wireless devices (25% vs. 13%).
Among the 15 major product categories that fall under Consumer Electronics are audio, video, automotive electronics, connected home technologies, digital imaging/photography, electronic gaming and entertainment/content. From our side of the business at CE Week, D-Box seating was part of an advertised “truly inspiring home cinema” installation alongside Stewart Filmscreen and Datasat, among others; Dolby sponsored a discussion on mobile commerce and devices (“Dolby Digital Plus for Mobile Entertainment); Tiffen marketed its high-end production equipment to the non-pro filmmaker; and, last but not least, Sony put on a fun show for its photo and video imaging products.
During the prior week, Pepcom had already stepped up to bat with no less than 54 companies exhibiting at “The Digital Experience” (www.pepcom.com/calendar). Amazingly enough, there seemed hardly any overlap to the more than 140 “brands, innovators and start-ups” at the CE Line Show, certainly demonstrating the size of the market. Despite having “the largest exhibit floor ever,” the East Coast Line Shows still pale by comparison to the International CES that CEA will stage in Las Vegas Jan. 8-11, 2013, with no less than 3,000 global technology companies unveiling their latest products and services (www.cesweb.org).
The New York event has also been characterized as the mid-year “reality check” for the CE industry. Shawn DuBravac, CEA’s chief economist and senior director of research, described consumers as holding back on their tech purchases and found declines in sales to be proportionate to slower spending overall, given global and U.S. economics. Despite not-so-positive economic data in June, the CEA monthly consumer confidence indexes, however, rose by two points in the technology area and by 2.6 points for their expectations for the overall economy. While revenues for television, audio and digital cameras were down 7.6%, 18% and 6% so far, the tablet and smart-phone categories once again kept 2012 figures at least on the same level as last year.
For the first time in four years of double-digit declines, DuBravac noted that average flat-panel TV prices are rising again ($540 in 2012 from $515 last year) and that 50-inch-plus LCD sets were up 15% (from 11% in 2011). A very strong decline in the under-24-inch group could possibly be attributed to the rise of tablets, his research suggested. During the 2015-2017 timeframe, CEA expects a renewed boost for flat-panels as the current first-generation sets reach the end of their life cycle. According to CEA’s “Evolving Video Landscape” study, 51% of those planning to purchase a TV in the next 12 months desire improved picture quality in a new display, and 50% want a larger screen size. This time, the industry believes—and hopes—there will also be a better showing of 3D, along with full Internet connectivity and, to achieve the desired better picture, 4K resolution (details to follow below).
More interesting than mere sales numbers, perhaps, is how consumers actually use their devices and for what. Hosted by CEA research and industry analysis specialists Chris Ely and Kevin Tillmann, “The Exploding World of Content, Services and Entertainment” made one fact abundantly clear. Content remains king, as consumers not only “have more options on which to consume these myriad choices,” but they “are allocating more income to content, services and entertainment than ever before.” The even better news: Movie theatres are still commanding a good share of the wallet. Although the analysts cautioned that the results of the June 2012 survey could be “slightly inflated” by the summer blockbuster season, they spoke of a “Hollywood victory” in continuing to create entertainment deemed worth watching. Those questioned spent a healthy $10.45 on movie tickets, which amongst moviegoers goes up to $25.49. Equally reaffirming perhaps, if taken as a communal experience of sorts, is that the living room remains the primary place for video consumption. People also enjoy watching entertainment at the home of a friend and/or family member.
While broadcast/cable (84%) and physical media (78%) are still dominant sources, 26% of consumers would like to access video content on the go. Already more than half of online U.S. adults (53%) watch some form of streaming or downloaded video in the home, the CEA revealed in January, with 51% viewing streaming content (two hours per week) and some 15% downloading it (watching one hour).
One of the places to do and see it all—and much more—is the model home and office showroom at Savant NYC Experience Center, where the leading integrator of home automation, commercial control, entertainment and communications offers an entire floor for the “fully automated lifestyle” (www.savantsystems.com). In addition to lighting, safety and security, communications, climate and mobile control, the Apple-based systems cover whole-house audio and home video, of course. “From a streamlined media room, to a luxury home theatre, Savant can deliver a rich and dynamic viewing and listening experience,” the company assures.
Not surprisingly, CEDIA—the Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association (www.cedia.net)—chose the state-of-the-art environment to present its views on the top ten trends for the future. Dave Pedigo, the organization’s senior director of emerging trends and technology, spoke of the “smart” home turning into the “intuitive” home and even had a clip from Back to the Future II to show how this had been imagined already. Even including Google’s Project Glasses, which were announced the previous day (http://movieclips.com/Hxc8J-back-to-the-future-part-2-movie-the-future-mcflys).
Movies were, in fact, very much part of his narrative, as he also covered higher frame rates and 4K resolution. While the verdict is still out on the actual standard to be adopted for the new television sets—Digital Cinema 3996 x 2160 (8.6 megapixels at 1.85:1) or Quad Full High Definition QFHD 3840 x 2160 (8.3 megapixels)—he assured that “4K is the next HD.” Pedigo also predicted that the long-awaited AppleTV would be doubling the current 1080p HDTV standard of 2.1 megapixels.
So where do movie theatres stand in this changing landscape? “The larger the screen, the more noticeable the difference will be,” Pedigo responded, lauding the communal experience. “They will always have to compete and it is always about the content. And nothing brings a crowd like a crowd.” His comments were met with a chorus of approval from attendees who all seemed to be mindful that the theatrical experience will prevail.
Looking at the inherent business opportunities, CEA has formed a 4K Working Group, which “will serve as a forum for manufacturers, retailers and content providers to define 4K technology, discuss 4K content options and educate consumers about the newest era in high-definition television.” The June 7 announcement went so far as to speak of “4K’s giant screens [to] offer consumers exactly what they’re looking for: state-of-the-art picture quality that is superior to current high-definition displays.” Gary Shapiro, president and chief executive officer of CEA, noted: “Innovation is the key to our industry, and 4K is the latest innovation that will transform the home viewing experience.”
Rest assured that movie theatres will also do their part.