Sports Media: From robot dogs to home tech, media execs weigh in on CES
We could be in the midst of seeing the annual Consumer Electronics Show morph from a television-centric convention to one that’s more focused on everyday home products.
That’s the opinion from one of Comcast’s top executives, executive vice president of Xfinity Services Matt Strauss, who described CES as a place where five years ago electronic devices and services for the home essentially were relegated to a kiosk away from the convention’s main floor. Earlier this month, that part of the convention had grown to full exhibitions in the Venetian and Sands hotels in Las Vegas.
“I remember looking at that and thinking that was going to be the future of the show,” Strauss said during this week’s SBJ/SBD media podcast. “Over time, that will become the show. What started out as a little kiosk, I predict over the next five to 10 years will become a core part of where the innovation is going to come from and where people are going to spend a lot of their time when they go to CES.”
Strauss described a CES show floor this year that was littered with everyday items that can be connected to the internet, things like cameras, lights, garage doors, door locks and even his coffee mug.
“I tend to be a bit of a coffee snob, so my coffee mug is set to keep my coffee at 135 degrees at all times,” he said. “Something like that might seem like an unnecessary device. Yet for somebody who drinks coffee, it’s fantastic.
“It’s not hard to extrapolate where this is going. It’s not too distant where everything will be connected in some way to the internet. The question will be how do you use that information and data to create really compelling experiences and also improve people’s lives.”
It’s not just his coffee cup. Strauss already uses a lot of these everyday services. For example, on his drives home from work, his wife gets an automated text message every day when he’s five miles away. Lights in the home turn on and the home door unlocks automatically. When the Eagles score a touchdown, lights in Strauss’ home blink green.
“Eventually, I will want it to turn the television on to CNBC,” he said. “Something as simple as that, where predicting behaviors, simplifying daily interactions, might seem like it’s not a big deal. But at the same time, there’s a surprise and delight where as more and more of these things come on to the internet and as we’re all more and more connected to the internet, it unlocks the opportunity to create these kind of recipes around how we could take away some of our everyday things that we do and simplify them. Humans tend to be creatures of habit. How do we identify those habits, learn from them, but also simplify our everyday interactions in a way that makes life better.”
In addition to Strauss, I asked seven top media executives to offer their main takeaways from CES. As Strauss described, television displays still are the biggest draw, with NBC’s Gary Zenkel and ESPN’s Aaron LaBerge highlighting OLED technology. I was most interested in the Aibo Robot Dog described by Fox Sports executive Michael Davies.
President, NBC Olympics
LG’s OLED Canyon was an amazing experience. Its floor-to-ceiling flowing walls of crystal-clear televisions made me feel as if I were immersed in the natural landscapes they were projecting. Everywhere you looked at CES, you saw head-turning TVs with strikingly clear pictures. I’m convinced that for years to come — and despite many predictions to the contrary — people are going to be watching content, particularly live sports, on large wall-displayed televisions.
Executive vice president and chief technology officer, ESPN
As usual, TV manufacturers showed off over-the-top displays, including gargantuan 164-inch displays, rollable TVs, and 8K. The advances in OLED technology were noteworthy. Most spectacular was Sony’s 85-inch, 8K display. It was stunning to see in person, especially running “Gran Turismo.” The color, brightness, dynamic range, and clarity were unbelievable. We’re approaching the pinnacle of home TV display quality.
Vice president of operations and technology, Turner Sports
“AI” and “connected” were common themes throughout CES 2018 — from “smart” clothing with AI-based apps that record and analyze your movements, then recommend activity targets for you to attain your daily fitness goals, to a digital photo album that automatically tags and sorts your selfies and snapshots. AI will make our lives easier by taking over the drudgery of routine, repetitive tasks and leaving us with time and brain power for more meaningful activities.
Senior vice president and general manager, MLS Digital
Over the last several years the sports and fitness presence has increased at CES. This year it was great to run into colleagues, partners and sponsors all over town. The story of this CES was clearly voice and the efforts many device makers are putting into integrating voice assistants into all kinds of devices. I was most excited about the new Peloton treadmill. The combination of content, technology and fitness is a great strategy and if their bike is any indication the treadmill will be a fantastic product. Now to try to figure out how to fit a treadmill in a NYC apartment …
Vice president for the NFL’s digital media business development group
Voice-controlled toasters sound cool, but I’m much more excited about how tech is giving fans new, fun ways to converse with friends and express themselves and their fandom. We’re just beginning to scratch the surface on this one.
The most exciting thing to me at CES wasn’t on the convention floor. It was the conversations we had with digital media companies about creating new ways for people to talk to their friends beyond text. For years, we’ve seen fans, especially younger fans, using gifs and memes in conversation. What we’re starting to see now is how new creative tools and light augmented reality can take this to the next level. Stickers, filters, emojis, frames, lenses are not new, but A/R is enabling them to get smarter, faster and more elaborate. It’s the “selfie 2.0:” digital face-painting, dressing like the mascot, or just putting on a digital helmet sticker or overlay on top of your photo.
Fox Sports senior vice president, technical and field operations
The overall power and utility of 5G continues to manifest itself as one of the most important elements on the horizon for almost everything across the spectrum of technology. From consumer-facing wireless distribution, virtual and augmented reality, professional transmission and much more, there isn’t very much that we work with that won’t be potentially enhanced by the speeds made available by 5G.
While countless companies are touting artificial intelligence, it seems as we are very much firmly rooted in the “machine learning” stages of what was certainly one of the big buzzwords of the conference. Like 5G, there is little that this area of tech won’t touch eventually, but we are still in it’s infancy.
The new Aibo Robot Dog from Sony is pretty amazing: The $2,000 price tag and intelligence — it professes to learn owners’ preferences — should begin to phase out real dogs in the near future. In financial comparison to my own dog, the Aibo would seem to pay for itself in less than six months.