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Last Updated: Monday, 9 January 2006, 09:09 GMT
Web giants show the way in Vegas
By Alfred Hermida
Technology editor, BBC News website in Las Vegas

Robin Williams, AP
Big stars such as Robin Williams were wheeled out during CES
Among the huge flat panel TVs, tiny MP3 players and stylish handsets on show at last week's Consumer Electronics Show, two newcomers were the focus of attention.

For the first time, web giants Google and Yahoo took their place alongside the big names in consumer electronics, such as Sony, Samsung and Toshiba.

It seems ironic that companies which have made a name for themselves by providing services should outshine others at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES).

But Google and Yahoo are seen as changing the way people access music or video and other forms of media.

And the makers of MP3 players, digital video recorders and other gadgets use to consume media want to make sure they are not left behind.

Media reinvention

Google and Yahoo made up a relatively small part of the 1.6 million square feet of exhibition space in Las Vegas.

Inside one of the halls, Google had a colourful stand, while outside Yahoo held court in a tent in the car park.

They proved one of the most popular destinations for many of the 130,000 people who came to CES to get a glimpse of the future.

The dominant theme at the show was how to make it easier for people to have access to the kind of content they want, when they want it and where they want it.

This is exactly where net services such as Google and Yahoo have succeeded.

Yahoo boss Terry Semel, AP
Yahoo plans to put its services on mobile devices
At CES they effectively repositioned themselves as media companies, announcing a host of deals that go beyond their roots in search.

These include providing TV shows and video to computers and mobiles, as well as linking up web services with traditional consumer electronic products such as the TV.

Google announces its online video store, which it hopes will become a full-fledged digital warehouse of media.

As part of the store, it reached agreement with US network CBS to offer hit shows like CSI and Survivor for $1.99.

"We're really the enabler," said Google boss Eric Schmidt in a briefing with journalists at CES.

"The important thing is to get the content out. Digital information should be available on every device all of the time."

Fun and games

Not to be left behind, Yahoo announced software that would enable its 450 million users to access their e-mail, photos, search and more from a TV or mobile phone.

"We are taking our essential services and connecting them to people's lives using their devices," Marco Boerries, Yahoo's senior vice president for connected life, told the BBC News website.

"The internet is changing from being a vehicle for websites to a delivery vehicle of consumer services."

Ipod in speaker dock, AP
Apple was absent from CES but its plans overshadowed the event
This trend is being echoed in the actions of mammoth tech companies such as Intel.

It sought to reinvent itself at CES, leaving behind its image as a chipmaker with its Viiv technology.

This is a processor and system that aims to bring together the worlds of computing and television.

"With all the digital content we are starting to see around us - music, movies, video, games - we are working to make sure there is a great PC platform specifically designed to do those things well," said Bryan Peebler, a program manager for Intel's Viiv system.

Intel's technology will be more visible to consumers in Microsoft Media Center PCs, which have so far failed to capture the public's imagination.

Microsoft is not giving up. At CES Bill Gates clearly laid out his ambition to put Microsoft at the heart of the digital era with Windows powering all sorts of connected devices.

But this is a crowded arena. Absent from CES was one of the most influential companies that marries technology and media, Apple.

It started its first moves towards the living room last year when it announced its Front Row software for Macs.

Apple is expected to step closer towards the idea of the computer as an entertainment centre at its Macworld Expo, which starts in San Francisco on Tuesday.




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