The International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, long the go-to event for the tech and mobile industries, is increasingly becoming a magnet for music-based services and media companies.
With many of this year's announcements expected to focus on thinner tablets, Internet-connected TVs and app-laden automotive dashboards, companies like Pandora, Clear Channel, MOG and CBS Radio's Last.fm are expected to be featured partners.
There are even a few artists booked for high-profile events around the Jan. 10-13 confab. Nickelback will play AT&T's party at the Palms' Rain nightclub the night before CES opens. Will.i.am is scheduled to appear alongside Intel CEO Paul Otellini on Jan. 10 during the executive's keynote address and will DJ iHeartRadio's party at Haze Nightclub on Jan. 11. Croatian duo 2Cellos are confirmed to play Sony Corp. chairman/CEO Howard Stringer's private reception, and Tiësto will spin a 90-minute set on behalf of his new Hewlett-Packard and Intel-sponsored Web series, "In the Booth," at the Encore's XS nightclub.
Pandora led CES 2011's conversation around multiplatform distribution by announcing apps with four automotive partners and a Wi-Fi-enabled Samsung refrigerator. Since then, the company has announced 10 additional automotive partnerships. "We're seeing continued momentum toward ubiquity," Pandora executive VP of business and corporate development Jessica Steel says. "We're so much farther ahead in executing this story than other player in media."
If 2011 was a year of experimentation with apps and new technologies for the music industry, 2012 is the year of implementation-with CES the key place to start those conversations. Major-label executives will be among the participants.
"We want to get more quality apps created out to market faster, to try and to test," says Jon Vanhala, senior VP of digital, brand integration and new business for Universal Republic and Island Def Jam Music Group, who will be returning to CES this year. "There are some really exciting products wrapped around music and fan engagement," he says, "and we want to learn how all parties can get involved faster."
Lori Feldman, senior VP of brand partnerships and music licensing at Warner Bros. Records, is making her second consecutive trip. "For us, it's about taking these technologies and utilizing them to serve our artists as well as we can," she says.
The digital living room is a hot topic, and rumors about Apple TV heated up during the week leading up to CES. Apple already offers a set-top box called Apple TV, but the latest talk is about an Internet-connected TV, although a lack of chatter in the supply chain has led some analysts to believe Apple is unlikely to launch its own TV in 2012. The lure is understandable: The living room is ripe for a disruptive digital product as well as a killer music app.
Other companies are already making inroads in the living room. Sony will be at CES pushing Music Unlimited, the subscription service that launched in the United States last February. Music Unlimited is now available in nine markets, with more likely to be announced during CES.
Roku, maker of a popular set-top box that connects TVs to the Internet, is another company to watch. A week before CES, Roku debuted its Streaming Stick, a device the size of a USB thumb drive that delivers Roku's streaming platform when plugged into a TV's HDMI port. It doesn't require a power adapter and works with any Roku remote control. Roku has partnered with Best Buy to sell the Stick with the retailer's own line of Insignia TVs. Consumers will be able to buy the Stick separately this fall. Roku has many music channels, including personalized Internet radio service Pandora and subscription offerings Rdio and MOG.
New headphone launches have become commonplace at CES. Lady Gaga was there in 2010 to show off her branded headphones by Monster. Last year Ludacris presented the SOUL From Luda while 50 Cent introduced his Sleek Platinum. In 2012, Wicked Audio will debut the newest Solus headphones. The red-on-black, over-the-ear headphones will be available this month and priced at $100.
CBS Interactive Music Group president David Goodman says that he keeps coming back to CES for the sheer diversity of its attendees. "In terms of the types of discussions that you're able to have, I don't really know of a place other than CES that enables those," Goodman says. "It's different than Cannes Lions or MIDEM. It's one of these places that brings a different type of people together."