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How hi-tech is changing the world Part 2: Content and cars

New content and entertainment platforms and electronic advances in the automotive market were two of the hot topics of the 2008 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas last week. Leaders from Comcast and General Motors delivered keynote addresses illustrating consumer technology’s growing relationship with both the content and automotive industries.

GM’s hydrogen car designed for Jay LenoBrian Roberts, chairman and CEO of Comcast Corp., the largest cable TV services in the USA, became the first chief executive from the cable industry to deliver a CES keynote. He said today’s convergence of media has ushered in a new era for Comcast, which he referred to as Comcast 3.0. He identified innovation, technology, choice and customer service as the four major elements at the center of Comcast 3.0.

Roberts announced the end of an era for set-top boxes, and proclaimed a new generation for two-way platforms with the introduction of an OpenCable platform called tru2way. Panasonic president Toshihiro Sakamoto joined Roberts on stage to announce their co-creation of AnyPlay, the first portable DVR and DVD combination with tru2way capability. Roberts also announced that more than 1,000 HD choices will be available for the portable device in 2008.

With the help of American Idol’s Ryan Seacrest, Roberts debuted Fancast, a launch pad for the convergence of the PC and television, creating a personalised television experience. The individualised site links quickly and easily to content on the television, Internet, DVDs or in theaters. With the use of wideband instead of broadband, Fancast is able to download a two-plus hour HD movie in four minutes. It is the first site where consumers can find, watch and manage all their video content in one place.

Not to be outdone, Rick Wagoner, chairman and CEO of General Motors Corporation, became the first auto maker to deliver a CES keynote address. As Wagoner noted in his remarks, GM’s presence at the show was further evidence of the convergence of the automotive and consumer electronics industries.

“If the automobile was invented today, it would have debuted at CES,” said Wagoner. “Because more and more, that’s exactly what today’s cars and trucks are – highly sophisticated consumer electronics.”

Wagoner updated attendees on the company’s OnStar technology, which he says will one day give drivers control of their cars directly from their wireless phones. However, Wagoner noted that GM’s focus was increasingly in the area of fuel cell technology.

Wagoner arrived on stage in a new Chevy Volt, GM’s first demonstration of a new family of electrically driven propulsion systems. He also debuted the new Cadillac Provoq, which uses GM’s fifth-generation fuel cell with a lithium-ion battery to produce an electrically driven vehicle that uses no petroleum and has no emission other than water.

Last Tuesday’s International Retail Power Panel at CES featured top executives from some of the world’s largest retailers including Best Buy, Circuit City, China-based Gome, Target Corporation and UAE-based Al Futtaim. Moderated by CEA’s Shapiro, the panelists discussed their individual markets and answered questions from the audience.

Discussion topics included the HD-DVD and Blu-ray competition, the USA’s nearing transition to digital television, consumer education, the industry’s green movement and the importance of free trade.

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The Big Change is a business strategy blog and newsletter published by Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of World Wide Worx, a leading technology research organisation based in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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