Streaming wars spill into CES 2020 as media nabs the spotlight
Quibi may be a funky name you've never heard of, but it's aiming to bring the star power that gets CES talking.
Joan E. SolsmanFormer Senior Reporter
Joan E. Solsman was CNET's senior media reporter, covering the intersection of entertainment and technology. She's reported from locations spanning from Disneyland to Serbian refugee camps, and she previously wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. She bikes to get almost everywhere and has been doored only once.
ExpertiseStreaming video, film, television and music; virtual, augmented and mixed reality; deep fakes and synthetic media; content moderation and misinformation onlineCredentials
Three Folio Eddie award wins: 2018 science & technology writing (Cartoon bunnies are hacking your brain), 2021 analysis (Deepfakes' election threat isn't what you'd think) and 2022 culture article (Apple's CODA Takes You Into an Inner World of Sign)
draws the tech-obsessed to gawk at fancy
. This year, though, the conference's long-running media sideshow is flooding onto the main stage, including two keynotes by companies vying to shape the future of TV.
Media companies and marketers long have fueled a show-behind-the-show at CES, one that has little to do with the next hot doodad. The mobs of media folks in Las Vegas may never even make it over to any of the big show floors. Instead, they're squirreled away in hotel suite meetings or mingling at panels and parties around the Aria Resort & Casino, the epicenter of CES' media confab sometimes referred to as Tech South.
Meanwhile, companies seem to be rushing toward a convergence of tech and media.
On one hand, tech giants are pouring resources into becoming media heavyweights. That goes for stalwarts like
, estimated to have unleashed a $15 billion budget for programming last year, as well as relative newcomers to video like
, which launched its Apple TV Plus in November on the back of a reported $6 billion budget to rope in some of Hollywood's biggest stars. And AT&T's $85 billion takeover of HBO-owner Time Warner -- now WarnerMedia -- finally made it into the clear last year.
On the other hand, traditional media players are arming themselves with tech firepower like never before.
launched its Netflix competitor, Disney Plus, in November, a culmination of its $71 billion acquisition of 21st Century Fox last year and of years spent reorienting the entire company around the service. And Comcast's NBCUniversal is waiting in the wings to follow suit with its own streaming service, called Peacock, early this year.
The streaming wars are pitting a raft of new streaming services against each other, and they're all launching within about seven months of each other. The outcomes of these skirmishes will shape the future of television -- and affect how much you pay to watch your favorite shows and movies. Apple and Disney were first to enter the fray in November, and three more companies are launching their competitors, backed by billions of dollars in investment, in the first few months of 2020.
And all three of them are presenting at CES this year.
The first is probably one most people have never heard of: Quibi, which has even morphed its Twitter name to "WTFisQuibi" in recent weeks. Backed by every major Hollywood studio, Quibi is being touted as a star-studded mobile subscription service for short-form video -- "quick bites," or quibis, as the company has dubbed them.
Quibi boasts an eye-popping slate of talent. Among traditional Hollywood stars, Quibi has lined up Dwayne Johnson, Chrissy Teigen, Kevin Hart, Jennifer Lopez, Idris Elba, Zac Efron, Tina Fey and husband-and-wife combo Joe Jonas and Sophie Turner (but on different shows) -- as well as a dizzying number of others. Steven Spielberg, J.J. Abrams, Guillermo del Toro and Ridley Scott are all contributing series. Plus, Quibi has recruited popular online celebs like Liza Koshy, Shan Boodram and Rachel Hollis.
Watch this: CES 2020 preview: Surprise booths, slim screens and smart home everywhere
The company has stayed mum about the talent it'll be bringing to the CES stage. But Quibi's CES keynote is shaping up to be the service's big public unveiling ahead of its April 6 launch, so your safest bet in Vegas next week will probably be that Quibi tries to blow away the trade show with celebrity wattage.
So far, Quibi has said the service will cost $8 a month for ad-free memberships or $5 for monthly subscriptions that also run ads. The keynote will be Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. PT in the Park Theater, led by Quibi founder and Hollywood mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg and Quibi CEO
, the former chief of eBay and
Katzenberg hasn't been shy about Quibi's ambition, saying the service should become as definitive for short video as
is to search. "Five years from now … if we got this right, there will have been the era of movies, the era of television and the era of Quibi," he said at SXSW in March.
The second combatant in the streaming wars to take the main CES stage is Comcast's
Universal, which will also launch Peacock in April. Peacock will be leaning into its back catalog of shows like The Office and Parks and Recreation. It hopes to make a reboot of The Office, as well as planned revivals of Battlestar Galactica by Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail, Punky Brewster and Saved by the Bell.
But we don't know nearly as many details about Peacock yet. The service will have a paid subscription and another tier supported by advertising, but it hasn't specified price yet. We know some of the programming slated for Peacock, but not nearly all. One odd thing about NBCUniversal's CES keynote: It comes a week before the company will hold a large private event unveiling Peacock in detail.
NBCU's keynote will also be Wednesday at the Park Theater, but at 4 p.m. PT. Officially titled "If TV Was Invented Today: NBCUniversal Reimagines the Future of Entertainment," it will be led by the company's head of advertising and partnerships, Linda Yaccarino, and it will include talent like Mandy Moore, star of NBC's This is Us, and Terry Crews, host of America's Got Talent.
Finally, AT&T's HBO Max will unleash in May with Friends, Big Bang Theory, Game of Thrones and Watchmen plus its own lineup of originals. Though AT&T's WarnerMedia -- the division behind HBO Max -- isn't presenting a keynote, it will make a presentation at the media-focused conference in the Aria on Tuesday at 1:45 p.m. PT. The tech chief of WarnerMedia, Jeremy Legg, and Andy Forssell, the group's head of direct-to-consumer business (that is, streaming) are set to describe their experiences building a streaming video platform.
Streaming music will have a presence at CES this year, too.
Most notably, Apple is making a rare appearance at CES. While an Apple executive appearing on a CES privacy roundtable has generated a lot of attention, far less notice has been paid to another Apple figure speaking at CES this year. The creative director of
, Zane Lowe, will participate in a talk Tuesday at 1:15 pm ET at the Aria.
Apple Music launched years after the latest wave of streaming music services already had the momentum to make streaming the main way people listen to music worldwide. But Apple Music quickly became the world's second most popular music service by subscribers behind only Spotify.
Speaking of the global leader, the company doesn't have an official presentation at CES. But it will host a happy hour with a panel discussion about the future of podcasts. Spotify has said to expect a news announcement at the event, which will be Tuesday evening ahead of the company's annual CES party.
Music will be trotting out Alicia Keys alongside the service's head of label relations, Andre Stapleton, and a Grammy-winning mastering and mixing engineer, Emily Lazar. They're all collected to talk about "the importance of delivering music the ways artists recorded it." Amazon Music's panel will be Wednesday at 1 p.m. PT at the Aria.
Not at all coincidently, Amazon launched Amazon Music HD service in September. So another safe bet: Count on lots of cheerleading for that $13-a-month subscription.