Biz visitors focused on content deals

If the Consumer Electronics Show were a movie, it would be the ultimate four-quadrant feature, like, say, “Avatar,” offering a bit of something for everyone.

That’s how it functions these days, anyway, for Hollywood’s entertainment honchos who hit the Las Vegas-based convention in force this week to see the latest in cutting-edge technology from heavyweights like Google, Microsoft, Intel, Samsung and others.

Michael Kassan, chairman and CEO of consultancy MediaLink, called CES “the ultimate mashup” of entertainment, high tech and advertising power players all itching to work together.

In years past, those industry leaders discussed and sometimes announced product placement and promotional partnerships for big-budget tentpoles, such as LG’s starring role as the cellphone of choice for billionaire superhero Tony Stark in Paramount and Marvel’s “Iron Man” and its sequel.

They still do lay the groundwork for traditional deals like those, where gadgets become film heroes and companies combine their marketing muscle to nudge audiences into theaters and buyers into Best Buy, Walmart and Target.

But executives from Disney, Paramount, Sony, Miramax, Fox, Warner Bros., Nickelodeon, Comcast and other entertainment companies are increasingly looking to the tech world for content distribution, the newest digital delivery platforms and even potential franchise ideas in the vein of “Angry Birds” and “Talking Tom.”

For instance, the Weinstein Co. plans to meet with automakers who are exhibiting at the show about streaming movies into the back seats of Internet-equipped vehicles. Miramax is streaming its movies through a new app-based deal with Panasonic and its line of smart TVs.

“It’s a vital conference because I can’t think of another one where brands, electronics manufacturers, Internet portals, ad agencies and entertainment all come together,” said Kassan, whose company provides curated tours of the show, tailored to specific marketer and entertainment clients. “It’s a catalyzing event for deals to get done.”

Recognizing that Hollywood’s presence has grown steadily over the last several shows, CES’ owner, the Consumer Electronics Association, started an outreach program last year geared specifically to the entertainment community.

The program breaks down the 1.8-million-square-foot conference into digestible bites for studio bosses and other industry insiders. Kassan’s firm is a partner in the initiative.

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

Not a moment too soon, considering this year’s show drew more than 150,000 attendees and 2,700 exhibitors, making it one of the largest CES gatherings in its 45-year history, Chupka said.

There’s always been a logical connection between entertainment and tech companies, said Kathy Findling, executive vice president, branded partnerships at marketing firm Terry Hines & Associates and a product placement expert. That link is even more important now as entertainment budgets are under pressure and audiences demand realism in their movies, TV and Web shows.

“It saves a ton of money to get that high-tech product,” Findling said. “And there are lots of cases where you just can’t live without it — it’s a really important category. We all have to court tech companies, and every one of them is at CES.”

A number of entertainment executives said they consider the confab a can’t-miss event because it’s the best place to get early insight into buzzworthy products and services that can be used as inspiration for entertainment or to create and distribute it.

“Technology is changing so quickly that if you don’t get in there and start building relationships with leaders in the space you’ll lose out,” said Devery Holmes, a product placement veteran and president and CEO of Spark Alliance Marketing.

“If you miss this show, you potentially miss real critical opportunities to see what your entertainment needs to reflect and embrace,” she said. “It really helps you know where the energy and the momentum is headed.”

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