- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 1, 2006

Do you want to catch “Saturday Night Live” on Sunday, or “Nightline” in the morning? Would you like to watch the football game in a doctor’s waiting room or 2,000 miles from home?

Or, what if you are suddenly in the mood for an old episode of “Dragnet” or one of last year’s hit films?

Technology makes all this “time-shifting” possible now, usually with a few button clicks. There is just a question of who will prevail in delivering the products and services that will win over consumers and their changing couch-potato propensities with new standards of convenience and mobility.

That battle for consumer dollars and eyeballs will hit a feverish pitch at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which begins Thursday.

The four-day annual event in Las Vegas, the mother of all technology trade shows, is bigger than ever. It will consume 28 football fields’ worth of space as 2,500 exhibitors ranging from Internet powerhouse such as Yahoo Inc. to little-known gizmo makers cast their bets on what they hope will be the next big trends in electronics.

Judging from the latest jockeying, video is one of them.

Yahoo and rival Google Inc. will make their CES debuts with keynote speeches, muscling their way into the high-stakes battle already begun by computing stalwarts, consumer electronics giants and telecommunications companies to push digital media deeper into homes.

With the Web poised to become an increasingly dominant distribution method for movies and television, the Internet giants, along with Microsoft Corp.’s MSN, very well could be the ABC, NBC and CBS networks of the digital age, said Tim Bajarin, an industry analyst with Creative Strategies.

“If they get it right,” Mr. Bajarin said, “Google, Yahoo and MSN will be the digital portals for video content.”

Hollywood, which now is experimenting with more online delivery services, is taking notice.

In fact, nearly 40 percent of TV network executives surveyed by IBM’s business consulting service said they feared major competition from Internet portals in the next five to seven years.

“The power of the Internet players, and the investments they’re making in video, is a threat in and of itself,” said Saul Berman, author of an upcoming report based on that survey and a partner in IBM’s media and entertainment consultancy.

Yahoo officials refused to disclose details about the company’s announcements at CES, but it is no secret the company has been aiming to strengthen its position as a provider of all kinds of Internet-related services.

The newest challenge is, “How do we now expand Yahoo’s reach beyond the browser into other devices?” said Marco Boerries, senior vice president of the company’s “Connected Life” division.

Television, a longtime anchor of the consumer electronics industry, undoubtedly will be part of the equation. The sets themselves and related products such as videocassette recorders and digital video disc players accounted for almost a fifth of the record-high $126 billion in electronics sales estimated last year in the United States by the Consumer Electronics Association.

What’s more important, the television is a ubiquitous household item: the cherished conduit for broadcast, cable or satellite programming, movies and video games. If all goes as many technology companies want, televisions also one day will become popular vehicles for accessing photos, videos and music stored on a home computer network, or other online content.

Technology titans such as Microsoft and Intel Corp. are banking on it.

At CES, Intel will showcase its newest dual-core chip technologies designed to make playing digital media — whether from a computer laptop or a newfangled set-top box — as easy as possible for users.

Microsoft is expected to provide further details on how it is making its Windows software a convenient platform for digital media not only on computers, but also on media servers, mobile phones, portable players and its new Xbox 360 game console.

Television is not confined to the latest and greatest big screens, either — even though flashy flat panels will be showcased heavily at the electronics extravaganza.

Plenty of new portable products designed to capitalize on the video trend will be highlighted at CES. Startup Sling Media Inc., which makes a machine that lets users watch their own television — cable, satellite, or even recorded TiVo shows — on Internet-connected gadgets, will show how its service soon will be able to stream live television to cell phones, hand-held organizers or portable players powered by Microsoft’s mobile software.

Meanwhile, telecom giant AT&T; Inc. will highlight a new set-top box that will deliver video-on-demand programming from a satellite source, caller identification and Yahoo-based Internet content — all via a television and a remote control.

“We’ll see a lot of new ways to get content to the consumer at CES,” Mr. Berman said. “Everyone is trying to find ways of reaching that huge, segmented audience.”

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