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2012 CES: Key Themes

We ate entirely too much Sbarro.

Hey, it was a quick meal fix in a pinch and there was so much at CES to view / listen to / play / swipe / poke / drool over, that a microwaved pizza slice was often the best option. The three-to-five minutes that it took to inhale a triangular piece of mediocrity was ample time to reflect on the handful of key themes that kept popping up across the miles of exhibitor floorspace, conference track events and flashy keynote speeches. Back at the office, I managed to gather my tomato-sauce-stained notes and expand on the most prominent dynamics from this year's CES.

The Year of the ________?

In most years at CES, there is typically one product or category that grabs all the media attention and consumer buzz. Last year tablets were the big craze. But there doesn't appear to be a clear winner this year. Some may argue that the emergence of Intel's Ultrabook category won that right with a dizzying number of models released from leading brands, while others may contest that OLED TVs were the next must-have. Aside from those two examples, there weren't really any 'game-changers'?. Maybe it wasn't a product or category at all but a trend known as the 'ecosystem'?'?¦

Owning the Ecosystem

If we had a nickel for every time the word 'ecosystem'? was uttered, we'd have a big ol' bag of nickels. But what does this new buzzword mean? Simply put, the ecosystem is the synergy created by a single provider that can offer users hardware (devices), software (an operating system), content for those devices (music, e-books, games, apps, etc.), and an online marketplace to purchase content ' all working together seamlessly. Apple has this structure in place now ' you can download a book from iTunes, read it on your iPhone on the train home from work bookmark your spot when your stop arrives, then resume reading from that point on your iPad while reading from the couch when you get home. Because it took Apple years to build and integrate this model seamlessly, they're in the leadership position and competitors are scrambling to catch up.

In most cases, one single company does not have the necessary resources in place to handle an across-the-board solution so they have naturally turned to strategic partnerships or acquisitions to fill-in the gaps. Last year the industry saw these building blocks being put into place. In February, Nokia and Microsoft announced a strategic alliance where that mobile cog helps Microsoft build out their own ecosystem. In April, Dish acquired Blockbuster's assets from bankruptcy auction, giving them more content firepower against a slew of competitors in DirecTV, cable networks and Netflix. Finally in October, Sony bought out Ericsson (you'll see the 'Sony Ericsson'? brand phased out in favor of 'Sony Mobile'? in the next few months) in a move that gave Sony complete control of the device end and allows for future integration opportunities with PlayStation 3 and content from the PlayStation Network.

To best understand the marketing implications of this ' first marketers must understand how consumers engage with these devices. Long gone are the days when a consumer sat in front of a TV with undivided attention. Today, that consumer could very well be using multiple devices at the same time. It is the responsibility of the agency/advertiser to understand the best way to reach the audience across multiple screens through a comprehensive brand experience. The benefit of these ecosystems is the ability to provide an integrated, one-stop solution across all touchpoints completely customizable to the assets (physical or digital) available. However, the downside is the device fragmentation, where consumers have multiple devices but not from the same manufacturer / ecosystem ' then that synergy and compatibility is lost.

Convergence on Convenience

In this ecosystem model, the ability to move from device to device with similar entertainment content is the ideal experience. There is a similar dynamic of interoperability through a 'connected'? home where various 'smart'? devices, appliances and systems work together for a more functional, efficient and cost-friendly residence. Imagine being able to get a text from your fridge to remind you to pick up more eggs because it knows that you're running low and you're close to the grocery store. Or maybe your bathroom shower mirror is voice controlled with the ability to give you today's weather and top news stories as you get ready for work.

These experiences are getting closer to reality and as they do the ability to enhance existing behaviors will come with it as well. For example ' your fridge then sends you a coupon on premium free-range eggs (because it syncs with your search/browsing history and recognizes that you're a foodie with a golden heart). Or your bathroom shower mirror gives you headlines from the New York Times that you can bookmark and sync to your phone to read on your drive in ' all included with a single NYT subscription.

Such emerging communication channels and opportunities may be a few years off. Fragmentation issues will still remain and there needs to be sufficient consumer demand for market viability but it's interesting to think about how a truly connected home might affect our day to day lives.

3DTV Today and Beyond

3DTVs aren't going anywhere. There's still a battle between active glasses (battery-powered, with a lens shutter) and passive glasses (polarized lenses like the kind you get at the movies). There were only a few autostereoscopic or 'glasses-free'? models on the exhibition floor ' mostly in some beta form from the big CE brands or offered by smaller specialty companies. In past years, the adoption of 3DTV was a 'chicken vs. egg'? scenario ' content was scarce so consumers didn't want to spend for the extra capability that they would use minimally and content creators and distributors didn't want to front the cost against a small universe of capable TVs. This was the same growth pattern that HDTV went through about a decade ago. But now, with most new higher-end sets featuring 3D capability (at a marginal cost), there is less consumer trepidation, especially when considering dedicated 3D television channels (ESPN3D, 3Net, etc.) and an ever-increasing slate of 3D movies released each month. All of this points toward consumers becoming more comfortable with 3D engagements.

That doesn't necessarily mean that the format will lose the luster of its impact entirely ' it just needs to be approached with caution. While it's easy to fall into the trap of creating gimmicky content (i.e. a soccer ball flying out of the TV), the approach should be the same as any other advertising medium where the focus is on the message and communication to your target audience first, not the effects. Designers don't say 'holy crap, we HAVE GOT to put a lens flare on this'? then build a concept using that as a starting point. Once that message is crafted, a few ideas to potentially explore are applications that can show size and scale (i.e. various classes of pickup trucks), precise details (i.e. industrial design of a sleek new handset), or use to provide depth to a scene / environment (i.e. panoramic shot of a tourist destination).

What's Next?

It'll be interesting to see these dynamics shape up over the next twelve months. It's highly unlikely that a game-changing product pops up this year. Any announcements from Apple (traditionally absent at CES) can shake things up as well. Who knows if any of the industry's leading brands will be able to gain traction on Apple's ecosystem, but it's certainly an uphill battle. Smart appliances could become more widely adopted as consumers become increasingly tech savvy leading the way for further growth in that category in coming years. 3DTVs and content will continue to grow but by the end of the year will it remain a fun novelty or will it become a serious way to enjoy the home television experience?

As for next year's CES, making predictions for what we'll see is always a crapshoot. I'm guessing 3D-capable mobile devices. And hoverboards.

Over the next few weeks, we'll be reporting back on a cross section of our time at CES ' everything from industry trends to brilliant new products to mind-blowing apps. Stay tuned.

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The full screen and vertical swipe feed create a frictionless user experience that makes it as easy as possible to enjoy the app.  TikTok’s unique user experience puts short-form video content curated just for you at the center stage, creating a seamless and simple way to enjoy content. On the other hand, Reels is only a feature of Instagram among many others.  Music & Video Editing Tools Due to copyright concerns, Instagram business accounts only have access to Reels’ library of royalty-free tracks, while content creators have access to a larger library full of popular copyrighted music. While Reels does offer video editing tools, they can be tricky to navigate and their filters and effects are not very extensive.  Music and sound are the cornerstones of a TikTok video, and the app has nailed this feature with its extensive library of music and user-generated sounds available to content creators and brands alike. On top of that, TikTok’s video editing features are user-friendly, and they offer a wide variety of filters and video effects.  TikTok is the clear winner when it comes to music and video editing tools given their extensive music and sound library and editing capabilities.  Platform Purpose   Instagram, home of Reels, is a network-oriented app, where users are used to seeing content from people they are familiar with and have chosen to follow. However, in the Reels section of the app, it takes on a content-oriented approach, serving users content from people they don’t know.  At its core, TikTok is a content-oriented app. It normalized the experience of seeing content from people you don’t know in your feed based on your usage history and learned preference.  While both platforms' short-form video features are content-oriented, Instagram is known for being a network-oriented app. Instagram has offered a similar user experience through their “Explore” page since 2012, so this balance between content and network orientation is something they’ve been teetering for a while.  The Algorithm  Instagram has been less transparent about the Reels algorithm, however, it has provided a few best practices for success. For example, Instagram recommends that Reels content is entertaining, fun, and inspiring, uses the app’s creative editing tools, and leverages the music or sounds provided. Instagram has also shared that content that is visibly recycled from other apps (e.g. contains a TikTok watermark) will also be deprioritized by the algorithm.  Beyond all of the features listed above, TikTok’s arguably largest advantage is its algorithm. The platform’s parent company, ByteDance, has been very transparent about the large investment they made to design the app’s algorithm that picks up on users' personalized interests in record time, contributing to the effortless and enjoyable nature of consuming content on the app.  Overall, TikTok’s algorithm is the first of its kind and unlike anything we’ve ever seen in the social space, which ultimately contributes to its success. We don’t know as much about Instagram’s Reels algorithm, but we can assume it attempts to mimic the TikTok experience while staying true to the app and attempting to keep Reels content unique.     How Brands Can Be Successful on Reels and TikTok To be successful on Reels and TikTok, brand content shouldn’t feel like brand content. Brands need to get scrappy and creative to grab user’s attention and not stand out like a sore thumb among the style of content shared by individual creators. With that in mind, both Reels and TikTok require a unique content strategy within the brand’s larger social strategy. However, that inevitably requires extra time and effort. To decide which of these platforms to begin focusing your efforts on, ask yourself these two questions:  Which platform is your audience on currently?  Which one can you commit to doing consistently?  While there are many benefits of TikTok as discussed above in our comparison of the two platforms, many brands have already established themselves and have grown a following on Instagram, and therefore beginning to utilize Reels has a low barrier to entry. While cross-posting between the two platforms is an option we’ve seen numerous brands take, a carefully thought out strategy for each channel your brand has a presence on is more important than simply having content out there. 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