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5 Observations from CES 2019

Amanda TerryFebruary 01, 2019

While I’m not typically a fan of Las Vegas on any day of the week — and especially during CES, when 180,000 people descend upon the town — this was my fifth time to attend the conference.  Dubbed as the “world’s largest technology and innovation showcase,” CES has also grown into a gathering place for brand advertisers, media, platforms, and investors that support the promotion of those technologies.  

As overwhelming and somewhat exhausting as CES can be, it’s also a productive time to meet with clients and former colleagues.  I also like to step out of my day-to-day role helping large publishers and platforms leverage data and gain customer insights that make their media spend more efficient, to poke around the convention center and learn about new technologies and think about their potential media implications.  Here are some of my observations from this year’s CES:

  1. Measurement is even more important as we live in an “attention economy” with ever-expanding and complex media display opportunities.  As evidenced by Oracle’s $850 million-plus acquisition of MOAT in April 2017, advertisers want to pay their ad tech partners based on the ability to show an ad to a consumer (not a bot), and ideally to get that consumer to purchase their product with the right targeting and creative.  This year at CES, connected cars were a huge focus. According to Statista, “Up to 98 percent of new vehicles will ship with internet connectivity as a standard feature by 2020.” As we think about the increased screen time in cars, advertisers will want to find ways to measure the attention and effectiveness of media on these captive audiences.
  2. Artificial intelligence (AI) assists humans but is not replacing them in content creation anytime soon.  At IPG’s Women’s Breakfast,  Kourtney Bitterly, leader of R&D at The New York Times, spoke about how the Times uses AI to create its breaking news newsletters.  Since content discovery on a mobile device is a very different challenge than that of the web or paper format, if you are clicking on certain articles, those will likely surface in breaking alerts and newsletters to drive your personalized content.  Khartoon Weiss, Global Head of Verticals at Spotify, spoke about how the company is “obsessed about personalization” and has more than 200 million playlists. While Spotify uses AI to look at which songs people are listening to, there is always a balance, with the scales tipping heavily to human judgment versus science to create their playlists.  Spotify has more than 400 human curators to create audiences and context for its playlists.
  3. Even though we’re in “Crypto Winter” price-wise, the practical applications for blockchain in advertising are becoming clearer.  If brands had their wish, they would pay consumers directly to: 1) share their personal data (should the consumer “opt in” to share that data), 2) watch their ads, and 3) buy their products instead of paying multiple middle men in the ad tech ecosystem who take a portion of their media spend to deliver these ads to the consumers.  Brands are starting to look at how to integrate blockchain to improve transparency in end-to-end transactions enabling the buying and selling of digital ad inventory, fraud prevention, and improved reporting and campaign reconciliation. Agencies are looking for ways to incorporate blockchain into programmatic bidding to give clients a better understanding of where their ad spend is going.  While there is no single solution for which brands and agencies are standardizing on in the advertising space utilizing blockchain, a lot of companies and investment are going to trying to solve the industry’s challenges.
  4. We are already in a world where self-driving robots are assisting with last-mile delivery of food and packages and need to think about the data privacy implications around these technologies.  Robby is delivering snacks to college campuses in partnership with Pepsi.  Segway demoed Loomo Delivery, a robot that can navigate around obstacles to deliver coffee, take-out, or packages in urban settings.  Robomart is an autonomous, refrigerated grocery car allowing consumers to pick their own products. While these robots are super exciting developments for mobile commerce, they are collecting a lot of data on cameras about who is buying what, where, and when.  Companies like Acxiom will continue to play a role in helping drive the policies around what can and can’t be shared and how that data can be used.
  5. Sustainability is a trend.  Impossible Burger was the first food product ever showcased at CES, and it was named “Most Unexpected Product,” “Most Impactful Product,” and “Best of the Best.” While Impossible Burger tastes similar to beef, it uses far fewer resources because it’s made from plants, not animals.  I also learned about The Lions Share Fund, which is getting the top 10 global advertisers and media companies, to donate 50 basis points of their media spend with animals in them to an animal conservation fund. They are targeting a fund of more than $47 million from these advertisers’ contributions.

Some would say that CES is so vast that “it has something for everyone.”  Others may say that it is so vast that “it has too much for everyone.”  It’s worth the chaotic experience to learn about the latest breakthroughs in technologies and their potential media implications.  Measurement of the attention economy, balancing artificial intelligence with human knowledge, blockchain for transparency, privacy concerns around robots, and conservation are all important and exciting challenges and potential business opportunities for what the future will hold.