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Old media fights against titans of tech

Silicon Valley schmoozed with the stars of Hollywood at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in 2006 but the 2007 sequel of America’s biggest trade show is giving the Titans of Tech only B-Movie status.

Tom Cruise embraced Terry Semel at the Yahoo chief executive’s keynote address last January while Robin Williams cracked a joke with Google co-founder Larry Page and Tom Hanks appeared with Intel’s Paul Otellini.

They will not be providing a repeat performance when CES opens on Monday January 8.

Attendees will instead listen to a line-up heavily skewed towards traditional media companies and the telecommunications, cable and satellite companies that deliver their content.

CES, with the chief executives of leading companies mingling with 2,700 exhibitors and 150,000-plus attendees, has come to reflect current trends in consumer electronics, computing and the Internet in addition to serving as the shop window for products yet to come.

The CES of 2006 caught the moment of Internet and technology companies trying to converge with and grab a significant share of the consumer electronics space.

The 2007 keynotes suggest that old media and carriers are fighting back and approaching the Internet on their own terms.

Mr Semel had argued that the Internet – and Yahoo – had become the delivery channel of choice for content. He announced Yahoo Go, an interface for the TV similar to Microsoft’s Windows Media Center.

That has barely registered with consumers over the past 12 months and Intel’s unveiling of Viiv, its brand for multimedia living room PCs, has yet to become anything like a household name.

Google announced a content distribution agreement with CBS at CES last year and went on to acquire YouTube.

But it still faces lengthy negotiations to strike agreements with all the leading content providers.

Those companies have re-thought how they will make their content available over the past year.

Walt Disney-owned ABC began selling TV shows such as Desperate Housewives on Apple’s iTunes service in October 2005.

Now the shows can be watched for free on its own website, helping viewers to catch up and then carry on watching on the regular TV medium.

Robert Iger, Disney’s chief executive, will be a keynote speaker next week as will Les Moonves, CBS chief executive.

The heads of the leading cable, satellite and phone companies will debate new options for content delivery becoming available to consumers, such as AT&T and Verizon’s plans to deliver comprehensive TV services via phone lines or fibre-optic cables to the home.

AT&T will deliver Internet Protocol TV but its medium will be a different beast from downloading content from Google’s video sites.

CES will also recognise the growth of the mobile phone and the expansion of content and services to it.

The chief executives of Motorola and Nokia will deliver significant speeches at the start of a year when more than a billion phones are expected to be sold worldwide.

Bill Gates will give his customary eve-of-CES speech on Sunday and is expected to focus on Vista – the much-delayed Windows operating system finally released to consumers this month.

Vista software will also help usher in a whole new range of hardware products.

These will include a fresh crop of ultra-mobile PCs (UMPCs).

The mini-laptop/display devices should cause more excitement than the pricey versions with poor battery lives launched under Microsoft’s Origami Project banner last year.

At the 2006 CES, it was the large screens of high-definition televisions that stood out and some of the displays will be even larger this year.

“I would not be surprised to see a 108-inch Samsung display,” says Roger Kay, analyst at Endpoint Technologies.

“But whereas last year you saw an unbelievable tour de force of displays in all sizes, this year it’s going to be more of the same – the big deal is that they are much cheaper than a year ago.”

The CES celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.

It first took place in New York in 1967, featuring 110 exhibitors and attracting 17,500 attendees.

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