Hanks, Smith, Bieber on tap for Vegas confab

After spending the past year caught up with how to digitally distribute its content, Hollywood is guaranteed to face another round of debate and dealmaking with the start of the Consumer Electronics Show.

The Las Vegas event is expected to attract execs from all of the major studios, as well as networks, videogame publishers, talent agencies, individual producers, directors and other creatives set to take meetings or speak on panels at CES. Indies like the Weinstein Co. and Miramax will also be considering new ways to distribute their libraries of films and giant web broadcasters like YouTube and Netflix will be looking for content deals.

Celebs in attendance this week include Tom Hanks, Will Smith, Barry Sonnenfeld, James Bond-franchise helmers John Glen, Martin Campbell and Michael Apted, makeup vet Rick Baker, Eliza Dushku, Justin Bieber, LL Cool J, even Snooki.

Hollywood’s presence has “surged” over last year, based on pre-registrations, said Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Assn.

“We have people here from every aspect of every industry. They’re all here,” Shapiro said.

Starting with a round of back-to-back press conferences from heavyweights like LG, Intel, Panasonic, Ford, Samsung and Sony, along with Microsoft’s final keynote at CES today, the new hardware that will be discussed will wind up in consumers’ hands or homes by the end of the year.

At least that’s the goal for the nearly $200 billion consumer electronics biz, who’s largest confab runs through Jan. 13. Last year, consumers spent $190 billion on electronics, up 5.6%, according to CES-owner the Consumer Electronics Assn.

And with each new device comes another platform that Hollywood can exploit as a way to generate more digital dollars with its movies, TV shows and music.

Once dominated by hardware makers, Hollywood has been making its presence at the show felt over the years.

Last year, more than 9,000 of the 150,000 that attend CES registered for the inaugural Entertainment Matters program, that guides individuals that work in entertainment through the often overwhelming Las Vegas Convention Center show floor, keynotes and panel sessions. This year’s sophomore year is sponsored by Variety and Ericsson.

“We wanted to make the show easier for them to navigate,” said Karen Chupka, senior VP, events and conferences at CEA, “and point out things they’d really want to see.”

For Hollywood, CES kicks off with a party tonight at the Wynn Las Vegas’ Tryst nightclub, where more than 1,500 guests will attend the kickoff event, produced by Michael Kassan’s Medialink. Over the years, Kassan’s firm has paired up Hollywood with Madison Avenue. At CES he connects both to the tech biz.

“It’s a classic mashup,” of reps from all of the various industries said Kassan, which he hopes will encourage discussion of the new distribution models effecting each sector.

“It’s like the conversation 10 years ago when people talked about Madison and Vine, Silicon Valley and Taiwan,” Kassan added. “Starting the conversation early with Hollywood made a difference. Starting the conversation early with Microsoft, Google, Yahoo made the conversation different. Starting the conversation early with electronics manufacturers makes the conversation different.

The reason is that CES is the show that launched the VCR, CD, DVD, Blu-ray, HDTV, 3D TV, TVs that connect to the web and a slew of non-Apple-made tablet computers.

“With respect to a weak economy, our sales we up nearly 10 percent,” Shapiro said. “Our industry and our products have captured the interest of Americans.”

After previous years focused heavily on 3D TV, web-connecting TVs whose screens are filled with apps like Facebook and Netflix, and tablet computers, this year’s CES is expected to revolve around the Ultrabook — a thin laptop that doesn’t feature a harddrive and saves or grabs content from the cloud — with a large number of hardware makers expected to introduce the device that Apple had already been selling as the MacBook Air.

Intel coined the Ultrabook term to get hardware makers like Dell, Lenovo and Acer, among others, to launch a new category of laptop to compete with Apple and create a new product for its chips that studios have embraced as a way to safely deliver digital HD versions of their films.

Shapiro said this year’s show will emphasize three screens: large flatscreens for the home that are vastly improving in resolution and smart TVs that connect to the internet; medium screens like tablets, where companies like Samsung are competing for a piece of Apple’s marketshare; and small screens like smartphones.

With flat panel TV sales slowing, hardware makers will promote a new line of even flatter TVs, filled with apps, of course. With prices dropping, others will push larger screens considering sales of those that measure more than 40-inches are expected to grow 12% this year, analysts say. And with the price of a 50-inch screen falling below $1,000 this year and 60-inchers dropping below $2,000, studios and exhibitors have more to fret about when it comes to consumers opting to watch more movies at home.

Although, sales of 3D TVs are soft in the U.S., 23 million 3D TVs are expected to ship worldwide this year, with more than 100 million units to ship by 2015. As a result, expect broadcasters like ESPN and Discovery to promote new 3D programming to encourage the purchase of new sets or give those who bought them something to watch.

A number of tablet makers will also be showing off their latest mobile screens to compete with Apple’s iPad, primarily because shipments of the tablets are expected to more than triple this year, increasing from 17.6 million in 2010 to 55.2 million this year, according to Juniper Research. It predicts 253 million units to ship worldwide in 2016.

Automotive, a growing presence at CES, will also be a big draw, with carmakers like Mercedes-Benz, Ford, Audi, Hyundai, Kia and General Motors hyping their updated in-car entertainment systems, that rely heavily on connections to apps found on consumers’ smartphones and tablets and connections to the cloud to access data. GM’s Cadillac division chose CES to showcase its new CUE infotainment system, rather than the massive North American Intl Auto Show, in Detroit, also this week.

“We have six to 10 of the largest car companies exhibiting,” Shapiro said.

This year’s CES includes a seminar on new ways that movies and TV shows could wind up playing in cars, which has attracted a number of entertainment execs.

“There is no question there could be a potential VOD app down the road,” David Glasser, chief operating officer of the Weinstein Co. told Variety . “I probably scratched my head and said, ‘Really?’ But I guess if kids could get VOD in the back of their car rather than me carrying the DVD that gets caught on the floor and stepped on, (I think that’s) coming.”

One company that won’t be coming back to CES after this year, will be Microsoft — at least not as the lead keynote or as one of its 2,700 exhibitors. The company followed Apple’s move to turn to other events to promote its new products throughout the year. Apple has walked away from trade shows entirely.

In making the announcement to leave after this year, “Our product news milestones generally don’t align with the show’s January timing,” communications VP Frank Shaw wrote in a company blog.

Even without Apple, more than 300 companies will exhibit at the iLounge, showcasing products for Apple devices.

(Rachel Abrams contributed to this report).

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