Back to the Future: Flashbacks from CES 2020
Since 1967, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) has been THE venue for the technology industry to introduce the latest electronic inventions designed to improve the lives of consumers. Over the past fifty years, however, this event has evolved into much more than simply demonstrating what new technology will do – it has become all about when consumers will adopt these new technologies and how companies can more quickly monetize them.
CES has therefore become the epicenter of the confluence of technology and data – with consumer adoption and activity at the core of this digital vortex. Participation has never been higher, with over 175,000 attendees and 4,400+ companies exhibiting their latest products. I have been attending CES for 12 years and as a self-professed gadget and data geek, CES continues to amaze by displaying not only what is possible, but more importantly, imminent.
Every major news outlet covered the popular exhibits, ranging from Samsung’s 8K MicroLED TV “The Wall,” the Neon artificial human, Pampers’ “smart diaper” and Uber & Hyundai’s drone taxi partnership, which I will highlight in a top 10 favorite technology list in separate blog post. What most outlets did not report were the impressive presentations highlighting learnings, insights and business plans delivered by a variety of attending companies. Remarkably, over 40% of the 69 featured CES speakers were from media companies. CES is now a must-attend event for media leaders as content is now distributed on more types of technology than ever – devices that both disrupt traditional practices as well as propel new business models. Understanding new technology and consumer adoption is now required for future success.
Most successful technological developments for video have empowered consumers to access content and personalize the viewing experience. Content providers have taken advantage of technology by supplementing their traditional distribution infrastructure with streaming capabilities through over-the-top (OTT) platforms. Brand marketers, also omnipresent at CES, realize the potential of reaching customers with far greater efficiency and effectiveness through addressable advertising.
But defining the benefits of efficiency and effectiveness is not a standardized process; there can be real issues surrounding the massive data sets collected from these digital devices becoming ubiquitous in the marketplace. Back in the 1990s, at the first Local Cable Advertising Bureau, I offered the observation that “technology is developing faster than our ability to adequately measure it.” At the time, I was referring to how the growth of cable forever changed TV viewership and lamented how our media industry was not reacting quickly enough to develop the proper tools necessary to accurately measure it through traditional methods.
“What is shocking is the industry's inability to get to it already. The consumer is driving this change. What has been so frustrating about the leaders in the industry has been the acceptance of the status quo and the unwillingness of the industry to reflect that consumer behavior.” — Linda Yaccarino, chairman of advertising and partnerships at NBCUniversal -panel at the 2020 CES
What is becoming quite clear is that bigger (and better) data can enable smarter marketing decisions, but only if it is managed with experienced and expert processes. While traditional methods of understanding the consumer "path to purchase" are challenged in today's media ecosystem, advanced data and innovative analytics are driving more effective results. We can now define consumers with greater precision and connect their actual purchase and media behavior with commercial exposure and measure business outcomes. This was the substance of most of the meetings and conversations which happened away from the exhibit floor.
CES 2020 was particularly relevant for media and specifically Comscore, a partner for planning, transacting and evaluating media across platforms – especially as they evolve. We observe through our massive tuning data (supplemented by panels and surveys) how technology is radically changing consumer behavior with more people consuming video content on platforms other than primary TV sets (computers, smartphones, tablets and OTT devices). Measuring audiences across these screens is crucial for both the sell- and buy-side of the business equation, and Comscore has been focused on engaging clients in the development of new systems and advanced metrics of success that better define consumer outcomes from advanced advertising campaigns.
CES 2020 Key Takeaways for Media
Despite my aforementioned penchant for everything that lights up, moves and speaks, this year’s CES reinforced several immutable rules for engaging the consumer in this digital age of marketing:
- Business Partnerships
- “Meetings, meetings and more meetings” - Virtually every attending company has adopted CES in Las Vegas to either initiate, introduce, clarify or conform business opportunities to create new value propositions. Consider CES to be the “Upfront for company collaboration.” Unsurprisingly, data and technology are driving new synergies between companies for profitability. Located primarily in the “connected” hotel venues of the Aria, Vdara, Cosmopolitan and MGM Park, both industry sessions and private meetings were conveniently arranged to traverse from one to the other in reasonably good time. The number of companies present and subsequent meetings only confirm the fact that while media companies will continue to consolidate, all businesses require greater cooperation and collaboration with separate companies to drive profitability.
- Streaming Content
- “Streaming Wars – The Empires Strike Back” - Streaming will continue to disrupt legacy linear TV and traditional MVPD bundles by enabling primary video content distribution with almost 20 platforms offering services and spending billions of dollars to finance a multitude of new movies and TV shows to compete with established players. As tech companies have successfully created a new paradigm of video consumption in terms of access and content, media companies are responding with their own digital platforms by leveraging their vast libraries of video as well as developing fresh series and movies. Streaming technology is benefitting content providers by providing greater distribution and subscription options. From the consumer perspective, these streaming services currently offer attractive packages in terms of premium content choice, pricing and an advanced viewing experience, many with 4K quality. The real questions are how consumers will ultimately decide which streaming service is worth their continued subscription and how advertising models will eventually subsidize production costs and profits.
- “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half.” Often attributed to American merchant and religious, civic and political figure, John Wanamaker’s alleged phrase opined how advertising was far less than efficient. Today, technology and data are changing all that. While addressable video advertising has been available for over a decade, the technology for delivering ads to individual devices (set top boxes and now connected TVs) in segmented households is accelerating with scale. Addressable TV advertising is quickly becoming a vital part of the media mix because of its capability to help advertisers target customized TV ads at individual households based on known data characteristics. This presents new opportunities, especially for national networks, who have been unable to take advantage of addressable inventory. Comscore has also built in the capability to measure both the addressable as well as the “non-addressable” audiences so clients can discern the value of inventory with the highest precision. I think somewhere Mr. Wanamaker is smiling.
- Measurement Acceleration & Transparency
- “Bad data are worse than no data.” - As I earlier stated, audiences are increasingly difficult to measure as new technology is deployed and consumer adoption increases. These new technologies are also providing new data sets which can conceptually help define consumer behavior with larger scale and great precision. There are now multiple companies in the space who are providing audience estimates based on proprietary platform-sourced data with associated modeling factors to represent media value. After working with return path data (RPD – user activity collected from a digital device) for over 20 years, I can tell you this is not easy. I have learned that massive viewing data sets informed by panels/surveys is vastly superior to the traditional method of panels/surveys informed by larger data sets. The sheer scale of massive data sets enables higher stability, reliability, granularity and can be matched to actual buying preferences to finally create real consumer-based metrics of performance. Since there is no census of complete usage data across video, the hard part is assembling non-representative, non-complete data and apply proven statistical calibrations to project industry-grade metrics of performance with full transparency so media companies can measure business outcomes. We are now in an environment of multiple currencies, and the larger research companies need to accelerate measurement solutions which address their clients’ evolving business needs. Media companies now need to carefully assess all data sources and applications to ensure the right decisions are fact-based and data-driven with transparency and integrity. Another question is how best to define viewership within these new platform environments. For a while we observed how consumers binging content has changed viewing behavior – now we are observing how “time folding” is impacting viewing durations as audiences are compressing content, fast forwarding program content, to fit their schedules and save time. Understanding this impact, as well as ad content consumption and/or avoidance, will be critical.
- Consumer Privacy
- “Make sure that people understand what we’re collecting, and how we’re using their data.” As CES is focused on consumers, clearly one of the most prevalent and critical topics at the show was not a new product, but a real issue: privacy. Privacy has become a unifying force and objective among media as well as a key concern for international, national, state and local governments which are leading to legislation for the protection of consumers and their data. What is most interesting is the continued deployment of surveillance technology amidst the high fear of privacy breaches. Adoption of cameras, voice assistants, drones, and apps is accelerating at record levels as major tech companies seem to encounter major data breaches on a regular basis. This will place greater pressure on all involved companies to work together to ensure personal information (PI) is far better protected going forward.
My final observation, and consistent with all the years I have been attending the show, is that CES is much more than the cool gadgets; it is about how consumers ultimately relate to media and brands through these devices on a personal level and what we learn through transparent processes to reach them on their terms. Digital technology connects content with the consumer faster than ever - if content is king, then the device is the throne. Long Live the King.