CES 2017 Winners (no, it wasn’t Amazon)

Like every year for the past 50, there’s been lots of buzz coming out of the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas. From vacuum cleaner shoes to a smart mirror that identifies your flaws (no thanks), if it’s novel technology it probably made an appearance on the show floor last week. Rather than a laundry list of products that were showcased, I’d like to rank the five companies that won the week. (Spoiler alert: Alexa didn’t steal the show, contrary to popular belief.)

#5: Google. No booth, no problem. Through a series of announced partnerships, Google found their way into an array of new products this CES. Their Brillo and Weave IoT frameworks were central to these hook-ups. Players like Asus, Harman, Kwikset, and LG opted to partner with the largest operating system on the planet. This is part of Google’s two-pronged strategy: make their own hardware and partner with others. Probably a good idea given past results. And it makes a lot of sense: hardware companies get access to incredibly smart technology and Google gets another node on their network. At the end of the day, Google wants as much data as they can get. This helps their algorithms, which then provide their users (Google, Android, Waymo?) with better information (or ads). Playing the long-game with these integrations might just keep them ahead of the competition in years to come.

#4: Sony. The only TV company that owns technology AND media, Sony had a good CES. They showcased a speakerless TV that transmits sounds through the screen. Pretty wild. But more interesting to me was the excitement around their PlayStation VR. With a PlayStation 4 install base of 40M, Sony has a distribution channel unlike any of its competitors in the high-end VR space. Remember: you need a high-end computer to use an Oculus Rift or an HTC Vive. This channel opportunity, combined with a great content library and decent specs, positions Sony as a strong contender in the massive VR market. Early market share is important to reaching critical scale, as it encourages developers to build on the leading platform. Time will tell, but my guess is that only two or three players end up owning this market. Sony is going for it.

#3: Content. Sure, this isn’t a company. But boy was its importance felt at the convention center. As always, TVs of all shapes and sizes made their mark in Vegas. It wasn’t just about thin displays this year, although they certainly were thin. Cord cutting turns out to be a real thing. AT&T’s DirectTV Now, Dish’s Sling TV (btw, check out the AirTV), and Playstation Vue have all rolled out their plans. And sure these offerings don’t have every channel, but when you can stream OTT content via the Internet, do you need 150+ channels? Once startups that focus on audiences (see: Cheddar) begin to compete for your attention, do you need EVERY channel? The answer is no. Maybe instead, you can access content that’s suited more for you. If that’s the case, which seems likely, investment in video content will continue to be top of mind for publishers, both big and small. Expect a plethora of content to be produced with lower barriers to creating it than ever before. Should be interesting…

#2: Amazon. OK not #1, but close. Without a physical presence, Amazon wowed the 170k+ CES attendees with a slew of new partnerships. As Ben Thompson recently suggested, Alexa is Amazon’s approach to creating an operating system. These partnerships, as well as its wildly popular Echo device, have established Alexa as the interface between over 8,500 skills and hardware we interact with daily. These integrations will fuel more interactions, which will improve Alexa’s “intelligence,” which should yield more frequent use. And so on. Should users continue their love affair with voice commands, Amazon is well-positioned to harness massive amounts of data via NLP and monetize it directly. And Amazon will be in control to decide whether that’s through their retail offering, via partnerships with third parties, or with advertising. Not a bad position to be in.

#1: NVIDIA. NVIDIA’s stock price has been on a rocket ship since last CES — it’s up over 350%. They seem to be at the center of the most important frontier technologies, quite literally. Artificial intelligence, self-driving car technology, gaming and virtual reality. They even announced a connected home device. You name it and they’re likely leading the chip innovation. What started out as a focus on graphics processing units has turned into one of the next tech darlings. NVIDIA is powering Tesla’s self-driving technology, and at CES they announced partnerships with Mercedes and Audi. During NVIDIA’s keynote presentation at CES, they announced GeForce Now, which lowers barriers for players with inferior hardware to instead stream games from the cloud. Don’t forget that gaming alone, by the way, is a $100B market. Keep an eye on them in the year to come. They are executing like mad and powering much of the evolution of the digital media landscape.

It’s nearly impossible to pick five winners from the more than 3,000 exhibitors. But make no mistake, these companies will continue to lead the rapid evolution towards a smarter, more connected, more exciting planet. And if you disagree, get at me with your thoughts from the show.

stu