CES update

This is the Best CES I’ve ever attended. I’m blown away by how rapidly technology is changing everything I’ve ever known about media, both mass media and my own content.

We are entering a world where anyone can produce audio and video programming and actually get it into the hands of consumers on any device.

This has been true for PCs for a few years now as content companies, authors, artists, and publishers can get their content online easily, and web users can find it. For 10 years I have carefully watched scores of online content companies, analyzed what they were developing and how they were marketing it. I used what I learned to help build MyFamily.com and Ancestry.com.

But today that same content will begin to be easily accessible on all kinds of mobile devices and most importantly, for the first time, on televisions in living rooms.

As a columnist for Connect Magazine, I’ve been able to attend hard-to-get-into keynotes from Paul Otellini, CEO of Intel and Terry Semel, CEO of Yahoo. Later today I will hear Larry Page, co-founder of Google.

Here are some of the big announcements:

1. Intel announced yesterday a new PC platform called Viiv (pronounced “vive”, like the Shampoo I used this morning). This tiny PC is built on Intel’s Core Duo processors will sit in your living room and connect to your large screen TV. And what will you watch? In the early decades of TV we watched whatever the 3 major networks played. More recently we’ve become accustomed to having dozens of channels delivered via cable or satellite. But Intel is teaming up with AOL Time Warner, Yahoo, and others to provide a totally different TV experience.

But in the new Viiv world any consumer will have remote control access not just to a few dozen channels but 14,000 TV episodes from 300 TV series for FREE, offered by AOL Time Warner via Viiv.

Consumers will also have access to at least 1,000 movies on demand and 1-2 million songs, under new subscription models. Morgan Freeman, famous actor and founder of ClickStar, announced yesterday a simultaneous in theater/in home world premiere of a new Hollywood film, later this year. Tom Hanks and Danny Devito, among others, were there to support Intel’s efforts to provide distribution to any film maker, putting creative control of future films in the hands of producers and directors. With the Viiv distribution channel, indies should thrive.

The last time TV changed for me was a few years ago when I got a DVR. This let me easily record any program and watch it at my convenience. TV time shifting is wonderful. My DVR is my favorite consumer electronics device of all time. (Second only to the 300 CD jukebox that I bought many years ago.) I’m not counting my Blackberry because that is for business.

But Intel’s announcement yesterday is a far more dramatic change than what Tivo has done. Intel will forever change television as we know it. Our living rooms will be powered by Viiv PCs that allow us to access millions of songs, thousands of movies, and all the TV programming of the past, on demand, plus any user generated content or other content off the internet, including photos, audio, and streaming video.

2. Yahoo today announced Yahoo Go and Yahoo Go TV. They invited all device manufacturers to partner with them (since they said they have no interest in doing hardware) . They showed how easy it will be to access your Yahoo mail, photos, music, and video on your cell phone and on your TV.

In fact, they demonstrated taking a picture on a Nokia camera phone, which automatically uploads to Yahoo Photos, and within minutes is viewable on your My Yahoo on your Intel Viiv powered TV.

The seamless syncing (or synching) of content on your three screens, your PC, TV and mobile phone, are really here for the first time.

My biggest complaint about my Blackberry is that I read 80-90% of my email on the Blackberry, but then I go online to Yahoo Mail and have to re-read the same email, and online it can’t tell if I’ve read the email message on the PDA or not. This makes my email life impossible. Some emails always drop through the cracks for me.

Phil Burns thinks the new MS CE based Treo would solve this problem. But Yahoo clearly is solving it too.

And my biggest complaint about digital cameras is remembering to get photos online so that I can save them and share them esaily with others. Cingular apparently tells Yahoo that billions of cell phone photos are trapped on phones where people never get them off.

But Yahoo fixes this. Then they also demoed how to use your phone to go online to Yahoo photos and pull down photos (whether taken by your phone or by your digital camera and uploaded previously) and look at them on your phone.

So perhaps our synchronizing problems across devices is really going to be solved. That is huge. But more importantly, the access to all the world’s mass and personal media on all of these same devices is even more important.

For years I attended Comdex and was impressed at how the technology industry enhanced human productivity. Phil Burns says the book “Natural Born Cyborgs” basically says we are all augmenting our human capabilities with technology. But a few years back Comdex started dying and all the computer hardware and software companies seemed to want to turn into consumer electronics companies.

HP two years ago hardly mentioned productivity. It was all about media.

Intel is now the future of television. The CEO ended his speech by saying that the “new normal” is a “rising baseline of fun” that is “brought to life by the human imagination.”

It seems like the main players in the computer industry are now all about entertainment.

This troubles me. The idea that the average american spends 247 minutes per day watching TV and only 50 minutes online really bothers me.

The availability of all the world’s entertainment content 24/7 on any device in our homes or in our hands leads me to believe that future generations all over the world will spend more and more of their time seeking entertainment. As if that is what life is all about.

Every year 150 m people get a mobile phone for the first time every year, 100 million get PCs. Most of the world have TVs. As these devices become Yahoo Go enabled and as Intel Viiv (with its 100 OEMs and a price point as low as $900) replaces traditional TVs, the whole world will have access to millions of hours of programming.

What does this mean for words? What will be the future of books? How well will words fare in a world that is filled with entertaining audio and video everywhere?

What does this mean for the future of health? In the US we’re setting obesity records and getting diabetes and Alzheimers in record numbers. Will future generations be couch potatoes

What does it mean for family life? More and more youth these days have multiple portable devices and wear earphones constantly. When they also have access to millions of hours of audio and video programming wherever they are, how will that change their attitudes towards their parents, siblings, and others?

I’m far from being a Luddite. But I am increasingly concerned about how the new focus on technology and entertainment will affect the world in the coming decades.

Bill Joy thinks the world will end in grey goo, with nano or biotech gone bad.

My concern is that no one will notice because they’ll be so engrossed in listening to some of the 10,000 songs on their iPod or watching all the episodes of “Welcome Back, Kotter.”

Neal Postman worried about the death of public discourse in the age of television. His book “Amusing Ourselves to Death” offers a very thoughtful warning. He suggested that those of us in the modern world could not sit through the Lincoln Douglass debates (which were several hours long) because all we can handle is small sound bytes.

What happens to logic, reason, conversation, and the human experience when media consumption fills almost every waking hour of every day. (I think many people are averaging 8-12 hours a day already.)

I’m not wringing my hands in despair; I’m just wondering myself as I contemplate the sweeping changes that I am seeing here at CES and trying to foresee where the world is heading.

I’ve blogged previously about Peter Drucker stating that the decreasing in population is the developed world is the biggest issue facing western civilization.

I wonder if we continue to be more and more entertainment by mass media which will now be portable–what will that do to family life? What will that do to hard work and sacrifice?

Will a larger number of us be contented to drink beer and watch satellite television for 7 hours a day in trailer parks, caring little for anything else?

I saw that lifestyle first hand while serving as a missionary in North Carolina 20 years ago. I couldn’t comprehend it. I visited hundreds of homes and wondered why anyone would choose to live like that.

But I think a new modern version of that will be simply escaping from the traditional work of education, hard work, sacrifice and responsibility into a constantly connected mobile world filled with entertaining media. In other words, we won’t need the beer and trailer, but we’ll achieve just about as much in our lives as those who do. It will just be a more portable and more social version of it.

I already know that most high school students know almost nothing about history. Jay Leno has proven that over and over again with his hilarious man-on-the-street interviews.

But the more content entices millions of youth to escape into the attractive world of modern portable entertainment, where millions of hours of content are luring them, what will happen to education? How many teens will read and study and ponder the Federalist Papers, to understand the cost of freedom, and why we should limit government?

I think a deadly 1-2 punch happens when youth stop reading books and start living an Always On lifestyle — where they all know the lyrics to every popular rap song, but no one can quote even a few lines from the Gettysburg address.

Google Print has the potential to change this. The Open Content Alliance too.

But the question is, how will we get any youth to care, when they have their cell phone and their video-enabled iPod, and their Viiv TV and high-def and a large plasma screen, and access to millions of songs and ten thousand movies?

Will the world end in Grey Goo or will we all amuse ourselves to death watching music videos by the Goo Goo Dolls on our Viiv TV?

6 Comments

  1. Another interesting side effect of this entertainment deluge is one that may end up destroying the industry behind it. In my opinion, entertainment has become a commodity (and I’ve heard the same from others). As ever increasing amount of it becomes availible in every form, in every place and time we may desire it, it will only continue to lose it’s value.

    To illustrate my point: iTunes took music to the next level by selling it online and sending it to ipods. They charge $1.99 per song (a new low price!). Then Napster remakes itself and starts selling a subscription service. $14.99 a month for all the music you can handle. Then Yahoo steps in, $5 a month for the same…

    Is it any wonder why kids swap and download songs and shows online? It’s like drinking water out of the faucet. Except now there’s a faucet in every room, on the bus, on the plane, in the office, in the car, at the park, at school. That doesn’t seem like a very scarce resource to me, and we all know the economic implications there.

    Even worse (for the entertainment industry), everyone can now make and share their own entertainment. Of course, some may say that people prefer professional productions, but I’m not so sure. Remember America’s Funniest Home Videos? That was a great show. The only things that stopped it from being truely awesome were Bob Saget and the comercials. But now I can hop on Google video (or any number of other sites) and watch The World’s Funniest Videos any time, day or night, 24/7, with no commercials and no Saget. Why would I stick with TV? The value just isn’t there any more.

    Well. You really got me thinking there, Paul. I’m going to have to post a copy of this on my own blog and credit you with the inspiration. Hope you don’t mind.

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