The Hottest Observations from CES and TCA

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After more than half a month into 2015 there's plenty to digest about how this year will play out. It's time to get the intuition juices going. Give thanks in part to what went down at International CES in Las Vegas and the Winter Television Critics Association Tour in Los Angeles, two big industry events taking place by this Ides of January.

So far, I'm counting six things to keep handy on your radar when it comes to what we'll see, or how we'll use TV, in the near future. Let me know if I'm missing something just surfacing on your radar.

Keep your eyes on:

1) The emergence of home automation on the TV set. For years, the idea of people using their TVs to control other objects in their home or apartment, whether the thermostat or the microwave has been an appetizing aspiration of industry officials. Whoever cracks the codes of both technology and public demand on this first can look forward to a lion's share of the revenue, as people have noted in some fashion. Thanks to the Internet of Things movement, that code appears close to being cracked. At International CES, major TV set maker Samsung indicated its desire to lead the way using SmartThings, a tech start-up acquired last August which makes sensors designed for integration into any communications device.

Samsung co-chief executive officer B K Yoon, giving an International CES keynote speech, promises that by 2017, likely sooner, all of his company's smart TVs will incorporate those sensors, and for this year, $100 million will be allocated for home automation services among the company's applications developer base. In a follow-up interview with CNET's, SmartThings chief Alex Hawkinson declared TV apps will happen this year and, ultimately, TVs will become a big hub for home control apps and far more.

As everyone awaits a sign for how soon Vizio, LG, Panasonic and other major TV makers follow Samsung's initiative, other players are almost ready to serve automation via TV efforts among consumers. Pittsburgh-based MaxMyTV expects to introduce a TV plug-in device matching automation with social media and other features. Despite a failed effort to raise $250,000 via Kickstarter last autumn, Max's organizers maintain they will go forward. Separately, one of the best-known names in the entertainment world is about to unveil a supercharged automation via TV venture with all sorts of advanced features. I caught a peek of their work last November at CES Unveiled in New York. If they can deliver what I saw there, they will draw a lot of attention. No matter what, this may be the new TV tech flavor that impacts the rest of the decade and beyond.

2) Intel's Compute Stick, an early candidate for most underreported development at 2015. Without coverage from popular Web site Engadget which was showcased by MediaBizBloggers contributor Shelly Palmer, few International CES attendees and the world outside would have known that Intel is entering the plug-in/dongel arena crafted by Roku, Google Chromecast and Amazon Fire TV. We're talking devices that make TVs smart or smart TVs smarter.

Compute Stick, coming out in March, puts Windows 8.1 and its apps on the TV set, plus video games, Web browsing, social media and other features aplenty. Cost: $149 for the Windows 8.1 version, $89 for a Linux edition.

Intel didn't help matters by not issuing a release about Compute Stick before, during or after its CES exhibit and press activities. Good news: I'll have an Intel executive on my Tomorrow Will Be Televised program later this month to showcase all.

3) Scripting with the stars -- big movie stars. All of us should know by now that we're in a big age of scripted TV, thanks to the range of networks doing it year round, more channels launching or re-launching an effort this year, the work of Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and other smart TV-available services, etc. Contributing to this push the last two years has been a growing group of Hollywood-based producers/writers/directors fed up with the current motion picture landscape who have concluded that TV is the better medium for the kind of cinematic work they want to do. Think Steven Soderberg (Cinemax's The Knick) and earlier this month, Woody Allen with his Amazon series deal.

Now it looks like more than a few current movie stars are taking the hint. They are making deals for big TV roles. Oscar-winning actress Charlize Theron's production company has an alliance with Universal Cable Productions and four -- you read correctly -- four series in active development, plus at least three more under incubation. Oscar-nominee Scarlett Johansson is working on Custom of the Century, an historical series. Mike Myers just signed a two-year HBO development deal, and The Matrix star Keanu Reeves is producing New Angeles with budding TV organization Slingshot Global Media. And let's not forget Adam Sandler's agreement to make a quartet of movies for Netflix. You had better believe other big names will land on this ship soon.

4) Ultra High-Definition's transition from fringe commodity to mainstream. We'll learn over the next few weeks how big UHD TV sets were this past holiday season. That will tip off buzz about how quickly, or slowly, people see UHD as a must-have experience. If fast, watch for news about content players doing more, and more original, UHD programming -- while the set makers promote smart TV apps to give these set models more sex appeal. If slow, expect more price-cutting.

5) Video-On-Demand's place in all this. Is this the year On-Demand on cable and satellite gets more attention, thanks in part to the ability to insert timely local and national advertising? And could this be the year some broadcast syndicator decides to offer same-day/night/next-day VOD of their original programming? Will those fans of Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy, Dr. Phil, etc. who can't watch their faves when the local station runs them be freed at last? Love to see that.

6) The number of upfront events ahead and who does them. In this era of expanded original content, networks not displaying in public what they have in store for advertisers and journalists risk falling under the radar screen of both constituencies. Trust me, that's a place you do not want to be. Will Cartoon Network, TV One and other services caught in that bind learn their lesson and reverse course this upfront season? How many new players like WGN America and the channels that launched last fall will enter the scene? Is this the season multicast services step in? Will Netflix and Amazon, ad-free for now, use the season to get extra press mileage?

Until the next time, stay well and stay tuned!

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