Last week in Las Vegas it was almost hard to distinguish the Consumer Electronics Show from Comic-Con.
Just as Hollywood has taken over San Diego’s fanboy fest, the entertainment biz now has a considerable presence at Sin City’s annual tech confab.
In 2010, 6,000 registered CES attendees were associated with various areas of the entertainment biz, according to the Consumer Electronics Assn., which produces the show. This year, that number grew past 8,000 for the first time, as attendance also surged more than 14,000 to cross the 140,000 mark.
Hollywood’s increased presence was not a coincidence but the result of efforts by United Talent Agency and its pair-up with the CEA to attract more filmmakers, talent, producers, managers, agents and studio and TV executives to the Las Vegas Convention Center’sgadget-laden floors through the launch of the “Entertainment Matters” program.
In the past, CES attendees were essentially left to their own devices to figure out where to stay and which booths to visit or panel discussions to attend. At night, most of the parties are invite only. The experience can seem overwhelming.
The purpose of “Entertainment Matters” was to facilitate an attendee’s activities, down to the registration process, according to Karen Chupka, senior VP of events and conferences for the CEA, but also to put CES on Hollywood’s calendar, just as Comic-Con has become as important as going to Sundance, the Toronto Film Festival and the Cannes fest over the years.
“What’s been important is to build a better relationship between our companies and the Hollywood companies,” Chupka said. “Hollywood is able about getting entertainment into the consumer’s hands, and our job is about building great products that get entertainment into consumers’ hands.”
The CEA turned to UTA to figure out why more Hollywood types weren’t turning up for its annual show, especially given that the event concerns the devices that play its programming in consumers’ homes or is increasingly used to create such content in the first place.
The tenpercentery found that the show was just too intimidating for many to figure out. “What we realized was that they were communicating to the Hollywood community the same way they were communicating to the technology community,” said Brent Weinstein, head of digital media at UTA, who, along with the agency’s communications rep, Chris Day, created the “Entertainment Matters” program. “The message wasn’t resonating. Hollywood needs to be spoken to in a very specific way.”
Ads were taken out in the trades and entertainment websites, panel discussions were organized, blocks of rooms were booked at the Wynn and Encore, while a VIP lounge was set up on the show floor.
“‘Entertainment Matters’ was the anchor that tied all of these events together,” Chupka said.
Specific programming included guided tours of the show floor, led by the CEA’s senior researchers, that put a spotlight on new tablets, smart TVs, phones and 3D TVs introduced by hardware makers. During the day, they could attend panel discussions on the impact of new technologies relevant to them.
And in the evening, Michael Kassan’s MediaLink offered up its annual Wednesday-night reception as the program’s night-before party; it became one of the hotter tickets in town. In fact, the event outgrew its initial space in the smaller Foundation Room upstairs because of the number of showbizzers in town. During the rest of the week, attendees also gained admittance to other events like CES’ party at the TAO nightclub at the Venetian or Lavo at the Palazzo.
On Saturday, 100 assistants from L.A. took a bus to Las Vegas to get their own guided tours and party at Tryst nightclub at the Wynn hotel.
The several hundred that participated in the “Entertainment Matters” program included producers Gale Anne Hurd and Alan Gasmer, “Heroes” creator Tim Kring, thesp Kevin Pollak, SAG secretary-treasurer Amy Aquino, former Warner Bros. chief Terry Semel and UTA board members Jeremy Zimmer and Jim Berkus.
But Hollywood’s presence could clearly be felt in other ways at CES.
News Corp., in particular, sent heavy hitters like Rupert Murdoch, Jim Gianopulos, Peter Rice and Kevin Reilly.
Meanwhile, Seth Rogen and “Green Hornet” co-star Jay Chou rolled into Sony’s presentation driving the Black Beauty car from the 3D actioner; Oliver Stone, Michael Mann and Baz Luhrmann talked up Blu-ray for Fox Home Entertainment at Panasonic’s booth; “Glee’s” Jane Lynch was LG’s spokeswoman; Olivia Wilde chatted up “Tron: Legacy” for BlackBerry, while the company also trotted out Adrian Grenier and Piers Morgan. Lady Gaga unveiled her new line of gear for Polaroid, 50 Cent promoted his new headphones for Sleek Audio, and Darth Vader and his Stormtroopers intimidated attendees into buying the “Star Wars” saga on Blu-ray when it bows in September.
“It became a bigger tent this year,” Weinstein said.
The comparisons to Comic-Con were inevitable — both attract nerd herds who want to be the first to check out new products and content, and both are breathlessly covered by the media targeting those niches.
But while Comic-Con has proven key in hyping upcoming projects, at CES, Hollywood bizzers are mulling how to best showcase their programming on all of these new digital devices on display.
Next year, “Entertainment Matters” organizers want to expand Hollywood’s presence at CES even further. One way they’re thinking about doing it is to host a high-profile film premiere that can tap into the Las Vegas setting and the worldwide media in attendance.
“Comic-Con was very niche, then became very broad,” Weinstein said. “We wanted to create that tipping point for CES.”