Tech tunes into TV at CES

Video everywhere--on PCs, phones, televisions--will be the watchword at this year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

This week in Vegas, it's finally prime time for video on the PC.

Executives from Silicon Valley, Beijing, Europe and Hollywood will descend on the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) to talk about how they plan to make money from convergence--the long-promised coming together of entertainment and computing that's finally a reality.

They'll sketch out a vision of the future in which consumers tap into huge libraries of videos--first-run films, news footage from remote corners of the world, home movies, old episodes of "Kojak"--and then play them on their computers, televisions and cell phones.

"The government is telling us we have to do it. It is a huge freaking opportunity," said Stephen Baker, an analyst with retail tracker NPD Techworld. "To be thinking about other things is a waste of time."

"It is a huge freaking opportunity."
--Stephen Baker
analyst, NPD Techworld

Intel is ready to make its pitch in Las Vegas. Chief Executive Paul Otellini will unfurl Viiv PCs, the chipmaker's latest attempt to help produce desktops designed to store music, record TV shows and serve up family photos and videos. The company also plans to announce partnerships with entertainment conglomerates, sources said, as well as show off set-top boxes, TVs and other devices that have been certified to work with Viiv.

At the same time, Texas Instruments, Philips and cell phone makers plan to describe how the FIFA World Cup in Germany this summer could light a fire under the sales of TV cell phones.

Yahoo CEO Terry Semel and Google founder Larry Page will deliver dueling keynotes on the same day at CES, which has traditionally been dominated by speeches from consumer electronics hardware executives. In recent years, however, it has expanded to take in networking, entertainment and computing, among other industries.

Navio is among the smaller companies at CES touting their entertainment-related technology. The Cupertino-based company has created a "rights-based" Web service that allows studios to sell music or videos through thousands of Web sites at once, rather than through a few authorized retailers.

"There are a million publishers of information out there, but only a few retailers. We decentralize it. You can buy something in context without leaving the fan site or blog," Navio CEO Stefan Roever said. So far, Navio has landed deals with music producers, but plans to announce pacts with movie studios in the near future.

A substantial part of the energy behind the new services derives from an about-face among major Hollywood studios, which this year have begun to embrace new delivery technologies. Several producers have agreed to let consumers download TV shows and movies.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, who delivers a keynote speech at CES on Wednesday, has said along with others that consumers will become their own broadcasters, picking and choosing their programs to the detriment of cable companies and advertisers.

Not true, say the cable companies. Someone has to organize all this stuff, they believe. So they are busy building different communications services, navigation software and their own pay-per-view libraries through pre-existing relationships with studios.

The Hollywood movie factories have their own challengers. Upstart Web sites like Veoh Networks and Brightcove hope to take on mainstream movie producers by creating sites for movies from unsung or undiscovered talent.

The only problem? Many of the videos made by unheralded stars stink.

"You've got a million videos. How do you rank them? How do you find good stuff?" asked Jay Janarthanan, the founder of ObjectCube, which makes video-on-demand software for publishers. "There are 8 million blogs out there, so how come everyone goes to the same 100?"

There can also be legal and contractual hurdles. Most of ObjectCube's customers sell adult entertainment, and liability issues mean they have to keep a huge cash reserve for legal fees.

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