TV's 3rd dimension is actually sociability
Although 3D sets remained the crown jewel of many booths, it was the bubbling up of social TV technology marketers may find most interesting. Last year's Internet-enabled TVs featured apps that delivered practical information like weather and scores alongside a viewer's TV experience. This year, manufacturers attempted to move the backchannel from the second screen to the first. Panasonic seemed to be the leader, labeling an entire platform "Viera Connect," which moves Facebook, Twitter, Skype and other social experiences onto the TV set via apps. Not just a technology port, the apps are optimized for commenting and engaging around what's playing live on TV (Xbox Live offers a similar service for on-demand viewing of Netflix titles).
Socialized TV is especially important for marketers as it increases real-time viewing of broadcasts that may otherwise be eroded by DVRs. It also opens a door for brands that can't afford to be in the broadcast but would like to engage (hijack?) the audience anyway. By participating in these pop-communities, brands can be social around relevant premium broadcast content. Or, those with the cache to do so could even create their own channels by working with electronics manufacturers. Given brands' obsession with owned media, this type of experience may give brands something to talk about beyond their current promotions.
Syncing is giving way to sharing Storing data in the cloud so you can sync between various devices has become a mainstream digital behavior. However, many electronics manufacturers are pushing the next step (understandably as the cloud mitigates hardware needs). A number of devices allowed consumers to simply move a single experience across phone, TV, or tablet. The shift seems subtle from syncing, but actually requires a considerably different design process for brands that are playing in the app or content space. Picture a consumer placing a phone in a dock and having the phone continue to serve as the basis for a Web or app experience taking place on a monitor or keyboard-enabled TV.
Given the explosive growth in mobile games, there's an established motivation for consumers to shift a phone experience to a different environment. Motorola stole the show relative to this technology via their Atrix 4G phone, which uses the Moto Web Top platform to turn phones into a computer with full Web browsing. Just plug the phone into a dock and you're in a stripped down computer experience (i.e., it's not just your mobile browser on a bigger screen, it actually shifts to full Web browsing).
Brands tend to struggle with the relationship between a channel and its content, pursuing the "media agnostic" Holy Grail of content. If any technology underpins the need to understand the impact of channel on content, it's experience shifting. A consumer might accept limited functionality of your brand experience on their phone, but if brands want them to fully embrace it, they'll need to design for an experience that evolves by medium. If brand reluctance to adopt HD is any indicator, a shift this dramatic and inevitable will take some time to plan for, upturning the design and concept process. The ability to shift is coming and brands may want to get their growing pains out of the way while the audiences are still small and forgiving.
Narcissism isn't just accepted, it's encouraged
The personal broadcasting phenomenon has been growing for years now, but never has a CES featured so many devices with features designed specifically for the kind of democratic content creation that has turned the television, publishing and media industries on their ears. Casio's Tryx camera flips around so you can see yourself while you film yourself in still images or video. The Motorola Xoom, Samsung Tab and many other would-be iPad competitors integrate front-and-rear cameras into the usual suite of content creation tools. The Looxcie Live is a wearable camera indistinguishable from a bluetooth headset built to stream whatever one is experiencing-- live.
When software makers start to support the creators of tomorrow, it's one thing. When hardware makers do, the opportunity for people to become their own media is exceptional. Brands will still have to be savvy to cull the quality from legions of do-it-yourself content creators out there, but the best of those creators will rise, gain followings and partner with relevant companies at unprecedented levels. The next stage of collaboration and co-creation is at hand, and brands should be following this shift in talent with their interest and actions.
At one point, consumer electronics were devices that consumers largely purchased to have media served up to them. Now, that aspect is just one part of the definition-- consumers will be using the products featured at this year's show to socialize their media, share experiences across touch-points and become media channels. These trends have been gaining momentum for years, but via software. If CES 2011 showed us anything, it's that the hardware manufacturers have finally embraced these behaviors. This will only broaden the audience and add momentum. Most importantly, these trends will demand more from brands, much of which will push them into uncharted territory. Yet even without marketer adoption, there's a wave of consumer creativity coming our way, and we can't wait to see it.