On the way to CES headlines about TV Guide and DTV "coupons" grab my eyes.
Happy new year! I'm writing while traveling to the big CES convention in Las Vegas, though it's widely expected to be smaller this year. Stuck for a couple of hours between flights, two headlines catch my eye: The first, in USA Today, says "Digital TV Funding Runs Out." The headline sounds scarier, of course, than the actual news -- DTV isn't going down the tubes (thank goodness!) but rather, the U.S. government has handed out all the money for converter box "coupons" that it had allocated. Good thing I got mine -- I've actually got one packed in my wallet, as a show-and-tell item for the convention. They're not really coupons either, but rather credit cards with $40 of value. Mostly my family watches TV from cable, but occasionally we do pick up an over-the-air signal, so I thought I'd do my part to help the economy by obtaining the coupons and buying some STBs. But now I'm beginning to feel guilty for depriving some broadcast-dependent household that's far more worthy of the DTV government largesse.
The second headline I saw at the airport, from Bloomberg: "Lionsgate Agrees to Buy TV Guide" was a bit more intriguing. As regular readers of this space are well aware, I hold a special place in my professional heart for TV Guide, and more specifically, the legendary "Gemstar patents" which have stymied set top box designers for decades. As discussed here previously, with Macrovision's acquisition of TV Guide in 2008, engineers were enjoying a more open licensing policy for these patents (see DVR and STB designers rejoice: Gemstar is kinder and gentler (again!)).So now, I can't help but wonder whether this deal -- which according to Bloomberg covers the TVGuide.com website and the TV Guide channel -- affects the Gemstar patents. I doubt it -- since that's the essential property Macrovision bought -- but I'll have the definitive answer in a future posting.
Meanwhile, CES occurs as the year begins, and as the U.S. and the world are poised for change. There's the change that the new Obama administration promises to bring, and the change that's inevitable when new investment dries up and factories sit idle. Last week I tried to add a positive New Year's spin -- see New year, new opportunities for video and imaging designers -- but this week the smaller crowds in the Las Vegas airport and the "Cars Available" signs at the rental counters tell a more sober story.
CES has been through many permutations over the years -- when I started going, in the 1980s, there were actually two conventions each year, but as Comdex rose (and then fell) and other conventions such as E3 took shape, CES scaled back to once a year. Now, for the first time in decades, they say Vegas hotel rooms are going empty and you can still get discounts the night before the show. Former exhibitors who used to have huge convention floor exhibits have moved to hotel suites, rather than spending money for floor space. It promises to be a different show, but as always, I'm confident there will be enough sparkle and dazzle in the new technology to help us all forget the world's troubles for a few days.