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CES gadget show: How watching TV will change in the 2020s

A show attendee holds Lovot, a Groove X

A show attendee holds Lovot, a Groove X emotional robot, during the CES Unveiled Las Vegas at the 2020 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nev., on Sunday. Credit: EPA-EFE / Shutterstock / Etienne Laurent

What will watching TV be like in the 2020s? Amid new gadgets and glitz, the CES tech show in Las Vegas aims to offer some answers, many of which boil down to more streaming and more efforts to glue you to your phone.

The show's keynote addresses, once dominated by computer and chip makers, will this year feature executives from TV networks NBC and CBS and upstart video services like mobile-focused Quibi and free streamer Tubi. Topic one will be the streaming wars — not to mention mounting costs for consumers who want access to everything — as giants NBC Universal and WarnerMedia prepare to join the clash with Netflix later this year.

Some companies also promise a big new push into “bite-sized” video designed to draw mobile viewers from YouTube, despite the fact that a similar effort several years ago foundered.

CES, formerly known as the Consumer Electronics Show, started Sunday in Las Vegas with two days of media previews. The show floor opens Tuesday through Friday. More than 170,000 people are expected, with 4,500 companies exhibiting, according to its organizers.

Beyond streaming, expect to see artificial intelligence-infused home appliances, security cameras and cars, new gadgets that show what faster 5G cellular service can offer and the newest in robots and souped-up TVs.

CES has hosted previous attempts to set out a road map for TV. At the 2015 show, satellite TV company Dish announced a cheaper, cablelike package of TV channels delivered over the internet and intended for cord-cutters . Offerings from Sony, DirecTV, Google, Hulu and others soon joined Dish's Sling TV.

But five years later, these online alternatives have been struggling, raising prices and in the case of Sony's PlayStation Vue, shutting down altogether.

So it's on to Plan B: Owners of television channels and producers of their shows are selling Netflix-like subscription services directly to consumers. Disney Plus launched in November, while WarnerMedia's HBO Max and NBCUniversal's Peacock are coming in a few months. If people would rather pay for subscriptions such as Netflix instead of traditional television channels through cable packages, Disney and other media companies figure they might as well try to get some of that money directly.

But they face competition from tech companies also seeking to replicate and encroach on Netflix's success. Apple launched its own streaming service in November, while Quibi promises phone-friendly viewing, with former Disney studios chief Jeffrey Katzenberg behind the effort.

Short for “quick bites,” the mobile-first service is designed to be watched for a just a few minutes at a time. Video programs are broken into 10 minute “chapters” — about the same length as broadcast TV segments between commercial breaks — intended for on-the-go viewers with limited attention spans .

Previous short-video efforts have flopped. In 2018, Verizon pulled the plug on its Go90 service in 2018, roughly three years after it launched; it featured short-form original programs along with live sports and older TV shows.

Quibi will preview about 20 new shows.  and will launch April 6 for $5 a month with ads and $8 without.

Kevin Westcott, who heads Deloitte’s U.S. telecommunication, media and entertainment consulting business, notes that consumers are getting more choices and shows than ever. The downside? “Too much choice and too much technological change" at once, he said, which could make viewers wary of new options, he said.

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