Seidenberg, Bewkes talk up faster access to content

There are different reasons why 126,000 people flood the halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center and area hotels to attend the Consumer Electronics Show. For Hollywood, it’s about finding the next new platforms through which to distribute entertainment.

Last year’s confab revolved heavily around 3D TVs and flatscreens that connect to the Internet — which studios have been exploiting ever since.

This year, the focus is on the small screens about to wind up in the palms of millions of consumers’ hands.

There was much anticipation for Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg’s keynote on the official first day of the tech fest Thursday. But it wasn’t because of the new gadgets he was expected to show.

Instead, he shed light on the capabilities of the company’s new 4G LTE wireless network, which launched in 38 cities last month, as well as Verizon’s enhanced high-speed broadband network.

LTE boasts speeds 10 times faster than 3G, the network most new mobile phones use now. It aims to have nationwide coverage by 2013.

It’s significant because smart phones need fast connections to operate the growing number of apps that consumers are plastering on those small screens. Video viewership accounts for half of Internet traffic, analysts say; it represented only 10% five years ago.

Hollywood should thus view the new crop of 4G smart phones and tablets that hardware makers are readying to roll out as the next distribution platforms to exploit in order to generate digital dollars from their movies, TV shows and games. The model is Netflix, which made its rental service available on every major consumer device — to the point where it now has a button embedded on remote controls.

Until now, studios have limited the number of titles they offer, primarily because Apple’s iTunes and growing line of gadgets dominated usage.

Cell phone makers Samsung, HTC, Motorola and LG, among others, are eager to step up with their own smart devices that they introduced at CES this week — before launching them in stores in the coming months — to make mobile entertainment more of a level playing field.

They just have to convince consumers to buy them.

Apple is expected to sell some 60 million iPhones this year, analysts say, driven in part by its upcoming release on the Verizon network. Meanwhile, it sold 7.5 million iPads in its first six months. Research firm eMarketers predicts iPad sales will surpass 19 million units by the end of the year.

That isn’t stopping others from trying to compete.

Ten new devices will light up Verizon’s LTE system this year, while AT&T said it will offer up to 20 4G devices by the end of 2011. Sprint has 17 4G handsets out already.

Many boast larger screen sizes. HTC’s Inspire, the largest screen AT&T currently offers (at 4.3 inches), also features Dolby and SRS surround sound, making it an attractive video player. Samsung’s Infuse features an even larger, 4.5 inch screen.

In addition there are new tablets like Samsung’s Wi-Fi Galaxy Tab, HP’s Slate, Dell’s Streak, Motorola’s Xoom and Vizio’s Via tablet, among others that run on 4G. BlackBerry-maker Research in Motion has its own iPad competitor, the PlayBook 4G, which will be aimed at corporate customers when it bows this summer at a price of less than $500.

Apple, which doesn’t attend CES, is expected to unveil its iPad 2 soon.

It’s what runs these devices that really matters, Verizon stressed, and Seidenberg praised the possibilities of a “creative revolution” with the faster networks during his keynote.

“Wireless data is now more than doubling every year,” Seidenberg said. “Smart phones are growing at almost 90% a year, and a whole new computing platform for mobile broadband has emerged.”

While Verizon was developing its new 4G network, it was also beefing up the speed of its broadband network, available to its 15 million FiOS subscribers. Network can now reach speeds of 150 megabits per second, or 21 times the average broadband speed nationwide. That enables a full-length film to be downloaded in less than five minutes.

“Big Broadband,” as Verizon prexy-chief operating officer Lowell McAdam referred to it during the keynote, could also be used to power 3D technologies and holographic games. He predicted “huge growth in video traffic” and noted that “network innovation not only changes what we can do, it changes what you can do with us.”

Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes took the stage during Verizon’s keynote to tout the broadband network’s faster speed as key in getting consumers onboard the “TV Everywhere” concept so that they can access their entertainment from any device.

All forms of entertainment are “going on demand, on every device, in ever higher quality — HD, soon 3D — and it is an explosion of vitality that is moving from the TV screen, still on TV, but to every other screen that you have,” Bewkes said.

Verizon’s faster network should prove especially attractive to users of Verizon’s FlexView VOD service, which launched in November, and sells and rents movies and TV shows that can be played on multiple devices, including laptops, tablets and smart phones. Service provides Hollywood with yet another revenue source for its libraries.

FlexView offered around 2,000 titles in 2010, and Verizon wants to boost that number to 6,000 this year.

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