Taking It to the Clouds at CES

Everything is going into the cloud — video, user interfaces, computer processing … and now, advertising and promotion.

International CES, home to tens of thousands of your closest friends, is a noisy, busy place that almost brings Las Vegas’s infrastructure to a screeching halt. That makes it a challenge if you’re a vendor that’s trying to catch everyone’s attention.

Cisco Systems got creative on Jan. 7, commissioning a company called AirSign Aerial Advertising to zoom above the Vegas Strip and write some promotional messages in the sky.

Rather than use the “long-hand” method, with one plane making its creations through a series of loops and turns, this promo featured five synchronized Airsign planes spelling out a variety of hashtags and messages, including “#VIDEOINCLOUD,” in a way that reminded The Wire of an old dot matrix-style printer. Only this printer was stationed thousands of feet above one’s head, and used special chemicals as the ink.

Did the marketing tilt work? It turns out that the promoted hashtag was trending on Twitter the morning it was happening, helping Cisco stand out from all the other attention- grabbing efforts happening at that time. And The Wire made note of it: Mission accomplished.

Dept. of Revision: Helping FCC Restore Alphabetical Order

It wasn’t quite the equivalent of bringing down a president, but the power of The Wire was in evidence last week in the slight rejiggering of the Federal Communicat ions Commission’s just-announced online consumer complaint help center (see Capital Watch).

Specifically, the change came in the alphabetical ordering of the entries under the “common issues” section for each service — TV, phone, Internet and radio — themselves not in alphabetical order, but you can’t win them all.

The new ordering came a day after The Wire raised the question of why “cable” rather than “broadcast” was the category that came up first when surfers searched for issues about which to complain, given that alphabetical order would suggest the reverse. Same for the phone category, in which “wireline” came before “wireless.”

Within 24 hours, “broadcast” and “wireless” were leading the sections.

An FCC source speaking on background confirmed the change was prompted by The Wire’s inquiry. The source even added an unofficial “thanks,” which The Wire will officially accept.

— John Eggerton

The Oculus Factor: VR Draws Crowds

Virtual reality isn’t close to becoming a mainstream technology, but its presence really could be felt at International CES.

Samsung, maker of Gear VR apparatuses, used its big press conference to show how technology and content will mix in a new way as the company prepares to launch a virtual reality streaming service. That new Milk VR service will provide a stream of virtual reality content — mostly short-form stuff — that will be updated on a daily basis. As a component of Samsung’s broader Milk music and video streaming service, Milk VR will launch with about 30 titles representing content genres and themes spanning sports, music and lifestyle.

David Alpert, executive producer of AMC’s The Walking Dead and head of Skybound Entertainment, joined the stage to announce he’ll be working on an episodic mystery/thriller show for Milk VR that will “push boundaries and engage the audience.”

He was coy when asked when or if we’ll soon see zombies appear in one of his VR creations. “You’ll have to stay tuned,” Alpert teased.

Gear VR is powered by Oculus, the company that Facebook acquired last year for a cool $2 billion. At a panel dedicated to the emerging format, Oculus founder Palmer Luckey said VR will expand well beyond the world of video games, TV shows and other forms of entertainment, noting that apps will also extend into healthcare and education.

He also thinks VR will take off once the price of the devices drops. While VR headsets run about $500 now, Luckey envisions a day when they will cost as little as $30.

CES show-goers also got a chance to see VR in action at the Oculus booth. Based on the lines we saw there, the Oculus set up looked more like a ride at Disneyland than a CES exhibit.

— Jeff Baumgartner

For Advocates of Title II, No Sympathy for the ‘Devil’

Internet-neutrality advocates were apparently of one mind when it came to whether they should start breaking out the Title II reclassification champagne about Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler’s signal that was the direction new rules were heading: Almost but not quite. And The Wire noted the advocates were in agreement on how to express those reservations.

“Wheeler now realizes that it’s best to simply follow the law Congress wrote and ignore the bogus claims of the biggest phone and cable companies and their wellfinanced front groups,” Free Press president Craig Aaron said. “Of course the devil will be in the details, and we await publication of the agency’s final decision.”

“The chairman has signaled the commission’s intent, and we’re eager to see his plan as the devil is always in the details,” Common Cause adviser and former FCC chairman Michael Copps said, citing “such things as the extent of forbearance, which could undermine the Open Internet.”

“I don’t want to get too excited yet. As they say, the devil (the Comcast?) is in the details,” said DemandProgress’s David Segal, “and we’re up against some of the most powerful forces in business and politics.”

The devil you say?

— John Eggerton