CES 2016: #NetflixEverywhere Crowns CES as Hollywood Royalty

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CES 2016 Netflix global #NetflixEverywhere

The hashtag should be #EverywhereButChina. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings ended his opening keynote at CES by announcing that its streaming service has just gone live in 130 new countries, including India, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria, with the hashtag #NetflixEverywhere proclaiming that “Netflix is now global.” It was a fitting way to cap off a celebratory morning that featured sneak previews of upcoming series like QE2 biopic The Crown and Bahz Luhrman’s The Getdown.

Gone are any doubts from my last visit to CES five years ago on a reporting trip with Time Warner chief Jeff Bewkes, who famously compared Hastings’ company to the Albanian Army. Back then, Netflix smacked of a business built on cheaply-acquired content from companies that undervalued digital distribution.

Today, though, Netflix has its own original programming with hit series like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black. That’s in addition to a growing library of content from partners like Time Warner. With its FCC win in favor of net neutrality last February and growing evidence that streaming reduces piracy rates, the wind has been at Hastings’ back. Netflix stock soared 130 percent this year, making it the top performer in the S&P 500 index.

With binge-viewing now part of the lexicon (Netflix content chief Ted Sarandos compares it to offering books instead of chapters) and big budget productions around the world, the stars are now coming to them. Comedian Chelsea Handler told the CES crowd that Sarandos just said “go” when she pitched shows on marriage, drugs, racism, and Silicon Valley for a docu-series dubbed Chelsea Does. She came on stage to interview fellow Netflix stars Krysten Ritter of Jessica Jones, Narcos star Wagner Moura and Will Arnett of Arrested Development.

To some, that sounds more like the stuff of the TV upfront season or the TCA TV critics tour than a Las Vegas trade show on the latest gadgets. But CES itself is changing to embrace industries like Hollywood and healthcare. With 2.4 million square feet of exhibit space and up to 170,000 attendees expected this week, it has morphed into the go-to place to see how tech is touching every part of the human experience. Gone is the name Consumer Electronics Show (now just CES) and the name of its host, which changed from the Consumer Electronics Association to the Consumer Technology Association—a move that president and CEO Gary Shapiro says is designed to capture its broader reach.

These days, CES celebrates disruptors and bold bets as much as it does shiny new tech. Could players like Netflix flounder at the hands of regulators or new competition? Will many of the new tech toys never make it beyond the halls of CES? Does everyone celebrate the arrival of car-sharing services like Uber and Lyft in Las Vegas? Perhaps these are questions for another time and place. Like a good movie and popcorn, CES is about entertainment and a bit of dreaming about what could be.


Diane Brady is a New York-based business journalist, author, media strategist and CEO of dB Omnimedia.

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