CES 2019: Our Immersive World
It’s easy to get completely consumed by the vastness of CES (Consumer Electronics Show) every year. CES is where the tech industry debuts new products for the coming year. Tech companies large and small put their products on display to the public for the first time at CES. In 2019, there were 180,000 attendees representing over 155 countries and 4,500 exhibitors displaying everything from augmented reality, to robots, to televisions, to sound systems. Each year, I look for the main thread that ties it all together; sometimes that can be a daunting task. However, this year it was as plain as could be. 5G is almost here, powering advancements in smart homes, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) that will make immersive entertainment experiences and responsive households a reality, and all will be run by an artificial intelligence (AI) interface likely owned by either Google or Samsung.
A Study in 5G & AI
5G (Fifth Generation) wireless is a first-of-its-kind data connection that allows for broadband upload and download speeds that are much faster than wired. What does that mean? It means, for the first time ever, consumers can have a seamless data experience that is not tethered to a home or wired line. It means that every device in your home or office could be connected to the internet, sharing data in real time without any lag. It means the reality of a simple, seamless, smart-home experience is now closer than you think. Trying to lose five pounds? Your refrigerator will know and suggest what products to buy based on your weight goals and exercise habits. Streaming seven shows on seven different devices? No problem. There will be more than enough bandwidth to handle the load.
While 5G is possible, it is not deployable right now. Internet and cable providers are still building out the infrastructure to bring it to fruition, but it is now just a matter of time. In this waiting period, Samsung and Google are battling to position themselves as the primary platform and artificial intelligence provider that manages all that consumer-level data.
Google’s presence at CES was, in a word, all-encompassing. The company’s presence could be felt, and seen, literally everywhere, reminding consumers at every turn that their AI and search interface is integrated into their most-used devices. Google seems to have adapted the Microsoft business model in the 5G world, seeking to position their interface in as many devices as possible regardless of who manufactures it. If you walked the floor you would see brands from car companies like Ford, television and appliance companies like LG, and even plumbing manufacturers like Moen, all highlighting their integration with Google’s AI.
Similarly, Samsung has staked out property in the AI/Integrated Life marketplace. However, their focus seems centered more around delivering an end-to-end controlled system, like Apple’s, powered by their AI interface Bixby. While the entry point to this closed system is only achievable by purchasing all Samsung products, the payoff could be massive for consumers interested in having a seamless experience. With everything speaking the same language and built to only handle one AI platform, Samsung products integrate and share data with lightning speed and require minimal management. When it comes to running a household, this could put the company in good position to be the preferred system.
While it would be unwise to count Apple out of the integrated home/life market, it is becoming increasingly difficult to see where they fit in. While Siri continues to be popular in the world of voice, Google has made it clear they intend to hold fast to their search kingdom, which also includes voice activation. Apple did announce that they will be opening their ecosystem, for the first time, to TV makers (including Samsung). Perhaps this is a first step toward a more integrated model?
Commanding Attention: Immersive Media
As explained above, 5G allows for more bandwidth. In turn that allows for higher definitions and faster speeds. Along with powering advancement in AI, this change is also critical to the world of virtual and augmented reality. This is because of the high refresh rates that both visual experiences demand. When you are that close to the screen and looking for a crystal-clear picture, it must operate at a high definition, or the experience is lost or feels disingenuous.
When advertisers and content providers were asked in panels what excites them about the changing television environment, almost all pointed to VR, with especially high levels of interest surrounding sports. While these providers acknowledge that the bulky headset and the cords could have some negative impact on the experience, they believe the prospect of placing a fan at the arena in, on, or near the action, will draw consumers to their offerings. One of the key truths of TV is that people still like to enjoy it together. Whether it be Game of Thrones or Monday Night Football, people largely tend to view TV as a communal experience. VR allows content providers to take that aspect of our lives and put it front and center. For the NFL this means putting fans in a virtual seat with their friends and watching the game together from the best seats in the house, and at any time replaying highlights and sharing their favorite moments as they see fit. For marketers, this represents that all-valuable engaged, uninterrupted television viewing session that seems to be dwindling as viewer adoption of multi-screen viewing and time-shifting continues to grow. VR is the seemingly rare modern experience, television or otherwise, that demands 100% attention 100% of the time. Should VR become a regular viewing experience, it has the potential to evolve into one of the more valuable commercial opportunities available.
Of course, the implementation of such experiences goes beyond sports content and advertising. Through VR and AR, consumers are also able to interact with brands in new ways, creating connections on their terms. This allows for integrated and custom experiences on a whole new level. For example, Google has already debuted the ability to use AR to see what furniture might look like in your home before you buy, and VR has been used by educational entities to create in-depth learning experiences outside of the classroom.
As advertisers and marketing people, we need to be ever-cognizant of how we deploy new technologies and how we integrate with them in our conversations about brands and strategies going forward. While these concepts have been discussed some at length for years, we are now at a point where their impact will imminently be felt in tangible, “real life” ways. How a brand tells its story is changing, and so too are the ways in which we as media agencies need to facilitate this. A 5G world is going to again transform the experiences consumers will come to expect in their lives, their homes and their entertainment, and brands will need to adapt. While the transition of the masses to a smart home lifestyle may not happen overnight, it is also now not science fiction to visualize a time when it is the norm, as 5G and immersive media continue to creep into our lives.