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CES 2019 Day 2 Recap Techno-optimism meets reality

by IPG MEDIA LAB // 10 Jan 2019

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It’s a sunny Wednesday in Las Vegas and CES 2019 is in full swing. As we enter the second day of CES, there were noticeably fewer crowds on the show floors, indicating a good amount of the attendees have moved on from the convention halls in which they have roamed yesterday to attend various panel discussions and presentations.

Accordingly, the shock and awe of the first day is starting to wear off and giving way to a deeper contemplation on the power of technologies and its societal implications. Many panelists and presenters made a point of finding a balance between techno-optimism and a sense of cautious pragmatism as we learn to separate hype from reality.

Kicking off the day was a keynote session from AMD, where Dr. Lisa Su, President and CEO of the chipmaker, took the stage to share her vision for the future of computing and how AMD products can help unlock that future. A major theme of her keynote address was that next-gen computing will continue to push the envelope on our ability to innovate, both in entertainment and in businesses. According to Dr. Su, when we look back back on 2019 in a few years, we’re going to see it as an inflection point in the tech industry, and the coming years will give birth to a new generation of market leaders.

AMD keynote highlights the gaming community as a key customer base

Facing the market reality of AMD playing second fiddle to NVIDIA in terms of GPU innovations, AMD obviously recognizes it has some catching up to do, if it were to become one of those new market leaders. And the strategy that AMD set upon is to zoom in on the education and gaming markets. The company announced earlier this month the first AMD-powered Chromebooks intended for the education market, in particular, for STEM education. The big product debut of the event was the 7-nanometer AMD Radeon VII GPU, which is designed for high-performance gaming. Dr. Su says over 400 million gamers are already using Radeon GPUs, and AMD intends to double down on serving the growing gaming market.

Speaking of gaming, back at IPG Mediabrands CES hospitality suite, our panel session of the day was a fireside chat on connecting with the elusive millennial and Gen Z male audience through gaming and esports. Led by our Director of Partnerships, Angel Mendoza, the esteemed panel consisted of Charlie Chappell, Head of Global Integrated Media for Hershey, Nathan Lindberg, Sr. Director at Twitch, Seth Ladetsky, Head of ELEAGUE Sales Strategy Revenue, and Dani Benowitz, EVP Investment of our sibling agency MAGNA.

The panel on the reality of reaching the lost male audiences

Together, the panel sounded off on the unique media opportunities that the growing gaming sector offers, and what brands can do to reach the younger audiences that have shifted their attention away from traditional TV and sports. Partnering with esports platforms like Twitch and tournament organizers like ELEAGUE is naturally the right way to go, but more importantly, brands need to learn the nuances of each title and work with esports influencers and organizers to ensure the authenticity of products and brand placement.

The panelists also agreed that there is an education aspect crucial to the growth of the esports market, which is currently missing from the general discourse around esports. Educating brands on the value and excitement of gaming is critical to the continuous growth of esports as a media channel, and it is up to marketers and industry leaders to start that conversation and show them the reality of the changing sports media landscape.

Over at the North Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center, another group of panelists discussed the complex reality facing autonomous vehicles (AVs). Excitement for the imminent arrival of self-driving cars is palpable on the show floor this year, yet regulatory hurdles and safety concerns remain for the future of mobility to truly take shape. Led by Alexandria Sage from Reuters, a panel of industry experts shared their thoughts on how to educate the public on the benefits of autonomous cars and set a realistic expectation for consumers on the timeline.

The panel on the reality of autonomous cars

The panelists agreed that the mobility industry needs to cautious with their messages to consumers, lest over-promising results in damaging consumer trust in AV technology overall. Public skepticism remains high towards autonomous vehicles. According to a recent Deloitte survey, 50% of people says they don’t think self-driving cars are safe. Facing this reality of skepticism, the industry must take active measures to manage the public perception on AVs. In this regard, the earlier announcement that key players in the auto and transportation industry have come together to form a coalition named PAVE (Partners for Automated Vehicle Education) to educate policy makers and consumers on autonomous driving technology is certainly a step in the right direction.

In the afternoon, AT&T CEO John Donovan took the stage to share his thoughts on 5G. However, the backlash against AT&T’s decision to rebrand advanced LTE service as 5G Evolution is something that he had to address. For what it’s worth, John slyly acknowledged that in doing so, AT&T may be breaking from the standard industry narrative while also defending the decision by saying that “every company is guilty of building a narrative of how they want the world to work.”

AT&T obviously knows the reality of 5G rollout, yet it chose to do so anyway in the name of forging a more competitive brand narrative. It’s funny to look back and remember that all major carriers pulled the same kind of questionable marketing stunt when LTE first started by labeling HSPA+ as 4G. History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes. At least all the other carriers were quick to call AT&T out on it this time around, but that won’t stop AT&T from doubling down and rolling out the 5G E icon to more devices this spring.

The panel discussion on the reality of 5G

In sharp contrast to AT&T’s reality-bending narrative, a lively panel discussion that followed was much more nuanced and practical about the short-term reality of 5G. Ann Lewnes, CMO of Adobe, perceptively pointed out that 5G cannot become successful and realize its full potential until parallel technologies like AI and AR mature. At the end of the day, 5G is an “enabler tech,” as Alicia Hatch, CMO of Deloitte Digital, put it, and its capabilities grows in tandem with the technologies it enables.

Of course, the panel was keenly aware of all the amazing things that 5G promises to unlock. For example, both Jill Cress, CMO of National Geographic, and Omar Khan, CPO of AR startup Magic Leap, brought up 5G’s role in potentially scaling AR and other forms of immersive experiences, as well as what Jill called “high-fidelity storytelling” to transform the way media owners and marketers can connect with audiences.

Nevertheless, the panelists agree the current reality is that 5G is not here yet, and we won’t see its impact for perhaps another three to five years. Therefore, it is important to recognize that and separate the immediate benefits of implementing a faster wireless network from the long-term promises of 5G, and more importantly, be patient with seeing the transformative results.

Such a realistic attitude towards 5G is perhaps illustrative of the prevailing mood at CES this year. 2018 was a tough year for the tech companies, and all the public backlashes and impending regulatory moves are starting to make people question technology’s influence on our everyday life. Of course, it is important to keep that sense of optimism and strive to create a better future through technological innovation, but perhaps it is time for the tech industry to slow down a bit, step away from the brightly-lit show floors, and face the complicated reality.

 

Richard Yao

 

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