LOS ANGELES/LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - Hollywood is toning down the glitz at the annual Consumer Electronics Show as studios seek cheaper, more practical ways to sell movies and television programs.
Celebrities such as actor Tom Hanks, singer Stevie Wonder and rhythm & blues star Usher did show up to endorse gadgets by their corporate sponsors, but such sightings were few at the once-extravagant show in Las Vegas.
Regulars like Walt Disney Co Chief Executive Bob Iger and CBS CEO Leslie Moonves were notably absent. And while CES officials insist more studios than ever attended, studio executives admitted to sending far fewer people than before.
Media executives kept mum or were unavailable for comment but studios like Time Warner Inc, News Corp and Disney have signaled they were cutting back on travel expenses, saving millions of dollars a year.
The shift comes as alternative marketing strategies have sprung up. Viral marketing uses email to share messages, videos and media online, along the lines of the mystery-filled Web promos for the 2008 sci-fi movie “Cloverfield.” And social networking sites such as Facebook or Second Life have added corporate applications.
Underscoring the trend, Apple Inc withdrew from the Macworld Expo last week after years of news-grabbing announcements by CEO Steve Jobs at the erstwhile mecca for the Mac-faithful. The company said it preferred to pursue its own tailored marketing campaigns.
“As part of our larger cost containment initiatives, we’re curtailing travel unless it’s really critical for business reasons and I’d imagine that fewer people are going to conferences,” said one studio executive, referring to CES as well as the Sundance Film festival and the National Association of Television Program Executives conference in Las Vegas.
“Some of these shows have grown less relevant as programmers find different ways to market their material,” said another executive from a different major studio.
LOW-KEY BUT THERE
In keeping with last year, both Sony Corp and General Electric Co’s NBC Universal turned up at CES, but few others stepped up to the plate in a similar fashion.
NBC broadcast the “Today” show on Friday, while Sony Pictures Television begins shooting 10 episodes of “Jeopardy!” on the CES show floor from Friday evening.
NBC’s low-key booth — more a wide, expansive space — at CES contented itself with screening clips of hit series like “Heroes” and “30 Rock,” while the Sony booth ran “Quantum of Solace” and “The Pink Panther 2.”
“It’s a natural for Sony because they’re a consumer technology and a content company. And NBC demonstrated with the Olympics its continued focus on multiplatforms,” said Kaan Yigit, analyst with Solutions Research Group.
But he questioned the benefits for media companies.
“There’s no major short-term potential or financial gain for content companies at CES, so the benefit is medium to long-term by being exposed to how the technology side is evolving and how to recognize and take advantage of new opportunities,” he said.
CES, run by the Consumer Electronics Association trade group, has long been a mecca for gadget-seekers, but started to draw media companies in the late 1990s as the buzz about the convergence of digital devices and content grew.
This year, Disney-ABC Television Group President Anne Sweeney hinted at the possibility of using a new Intel Corp chip to launch interactive programing that complements hit shows like “Lost,” in her CES address.
In years past, Iger and Moonves delivered CES keynotes detailing their networks’ broadband initiatives.
Attendees cited fewer Hollywood folks on the floor.
“From the people I’ve spoken to, fewer people are coming and the people who are coming are having more meetings and have more pressure to emerge with business deals,” said Zahava Stroud, president of iHollywood Forum, a producer of digital media executive summits that hosted a dinner at CES.
“I don’t think you’ll have Hollywood executives roaming the floors looking for new concepts and ideas.”
Editing by Edwin Chan; editing by Richard Chang