CES 2009 and News from Sling Media

I made my annual pilgrimage to Vegas last week for CES 2009. While the CEA claimed only an 8% decrease in attendance this year at the opening of the show, I’m thinking they came up with a non-obvious means of measurement to whitewash what must have been a much bigger drop in attendance — perhaps they measured sign-ups instead of how many people actually showed up, for instance. Given how much less crowded it felt there — in previous years, taxi lines at the major hotels were at least 30 – 45 minutes long, and it was difficult to get a dinner reservation — I’m thinking the attendance drop had to be much bigger than 8%. And some articles out today peg the decline in attendance at 23%. Bad for the show and a troubling sign of the times, to be sure, but it sure made the overall experience as an attendee much nicer.

Several of my partners attended this year as well and we just posted some of our observations about the event over on the Foundry Group blog. One thing we didn’t mention on that blog, probably because we are all smitten with the iPhone, was Palm’s announcement of the new Palm Pre. I have to say, it looks pretty damn intriguing to me. My wife still uses her Sidekick, but wants a new phone, yet can’t get her head around using the iPhone’s virtual keyboard, so I may suggest that she become our household’s Palm Pre guinea pig. The Pre claims some great features: true multi-tasking and multi-service contact and event sync (as well as the real keyboard and cut and paste) plus an app store all sound pretty good to me. Palm did a great job of commanding media attention at CES this year, partly because the Pre is a hail-mary pass for the company. And I have to say, based on how the ball looks in the air right now, it is conceivable the wide receiver might actually catch the pigskin in the end zone. Apple’s introduction of the iPhone has forever changed the smartphone market by breaking the carriers’ hegemony over the software stack and has caused everyone in the mobile market to raise their game. Consumers benefit, as will app developers who will have several viable platforms to develop to. Exciting times.

Finally, Sling Media had some interesting product announcements. During MacWorld they demoed the SlingPlayer for the iPhone (hooray) and they also showed the first EchoStar DVR with an integrated Slingbox. This product is the first of (hopefully Many) fruits of the vision of the 2007 merger of EchoStar and Sling Media. The Slingbox inside this new DVR has access to one of the multiple internal tuners, so a remote viewer watching via a SlingPlayer or SlingCatcher will no longer be commandeering what’s on in the living room. If they added a bluray player and access to online video sources, this would be the ultimate STB, and might be enough to cause me to switch from Comcast to DISH.

And as a final note, one thing that wasn’t announced until after CES, is that Sling’s co-founders Blake and Jason Krikorian as well as executives Jason Hirschorn and Ben White are leaving EchoStar and handing the reigns over to the (very) capable COO John Gilmore. I know that Blake, Jason, Jason and Ben are planning to take some well-deserved time off, and I wish them the best of luck in the future. Gents, it was an honor and a pleasure to work with you guys, and I sincerely hope we can work together again someday…