There was a time, way back when… that DIRECTV and DISH had massive presences at the CES show (back when CES stood for Consumer Electronics Show… now it doesn’t stand for anything). I remember the big booth where DIRECTV hyped their then-new R15 DVR. Oh, those were the days. The company’s been invisible since about 2010, seen only in back rooms if you got a special invitation. This year they’re not even in the back rooms.
DISH, on the other hand, was a fixture until last year. Every year they’d trot out some vaporware, you’d hope it materialized, and about half of it did. It’s where we first saw the Hopper family of DVRs, as well as the rise of Sling TV. Today DISH is gone too.
What’s making these giants skip one of the largest displays of consumer electronics in the world?
Plain and simple, they don’t see themselves as hardware vendors any more. DIRECTV and DISH still supply satellite TV equipment, but they’d rather you thought of them as service providers. In the case of DIRECTV, they’ve been moving aggressively to take the DIRECTV name off the hardware and use it only for the TV service. The hardware, for the most part, only shows the AT&T globe logo. DISH has been moving aggressively toward wireless services too, with founder and top dog Charlie Ergen moving away from the satellite side to focus on wireless in the coming years.
In short, in a trade show filled with gadgets, they just didn’t want to talk about gadgets.
I don’t blame them. People today aren’t really lit up by the boxes in their living rooms, they’re more interested in the content. That’s why DIRECTV NOW and Sling TV are growing so quickly, while things on the satellite side of the house are even or shrinking. People don’t want to be tied to physical boxes or physical locations. They want to watch content on mobile devices, on tablets, on computers, and yes, occasionally in living rooms.
I think DIRECTV and DISH’s departure from this trade show is really part of an overall shift. As I said yesterday, Google is the big name here, and they’re not advertising any hardware at all. Other vendors talk about how their stuff works with Google Assistant, but Google itself is spending massive moolah just so you know they have an assistant, and it’s better than Alexa (in their opinion.)
It does make you wonder about the future of shows like this, which have increasingly turned into showcases for a very small number of companies who get PR value from their displays, plus a place for thousands of closed-door meetings. While CES itself tries to reward innovation, they reward the big guys for putting up the same displays full of TVs every year. I don’t know how that’s going to work out for them long-term.