OTT.X XFronts Event Spotlights FAST, AVOD Services

Ad-supported streaming services took center stage on the first day of the inaugural OTT.X XFronts event, taking place May 24-25 in Los Angeles.

The event is an exchange consisting of pitches and presentations by prominent and up-and-coming AVOD and FAST (free ad-supported streaming) platforms, networks and channels to an audience of brands, advertisers and ad agencies.

OTT.X president and CEO Mark Fisher said XFronts tallied nearly 400 registrants.

In welcoming the crowd, Erick Opeka, Cinedigm chief strategy offer and one of the creators of the event, said XFronts was designed to help “build the next generation of great streaming companies.”

“For years, the [ad-supported streaming] business was tiny, incremental and frankly a rounding error,” he said. But now with Netflix and other major streamers looking at ad-supported tiers, he noted, “The rest of the industry is catching up.”

Prior to a panel titled “Is FAST Programming Moving in the Direction of Cable TV?” TelevisaUnivision’s Richard Hull said that linear streaming was indeed encroaching on traditional TV turf.

“You’re finally seeing a transition of all the linear dollars on broadcast and cable TV starting to move over to these free ad-supported platforms,” he said.

Panelists agreed that FAST services were the new frontier in the linear TV business that cable and broadcast built.

“We actually consider ourselves as being in the cable TV business,” said Stuart McLean, CEO of FAST Studios, which features numerous channels and is soon launching the Women’s Sports Network. “All of our team come out of the cable business.”

“But there’s the data to back it up on who’s watching when,” he added.

“That’s something that cable’s never been able to do, [serve up ads] customized for the user,” added panelist Anthony Layser, of Xumo.

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Adam Bergman, VP of national ad sales for Vizio, which offers FAST services on its connected TV screens including its own WatchFree+, noted Vizio is a service just like cable “without the strings” and also pointed out streamers’ added power of data in serving advertisers.

“That’s my screen and my remote in your hand,” he said of the Vizio service. “I know more than anyone about what happens on my screen.”

Xumo’s Layser said the ad-supported business started to really take off in 2019. “The content doors started opening,” he said, noting that services such as Tubi, Pluto TV and Roku paved the way. “Since that time it’s very different in terms of the premium nature of the content,” he said, adding “more and more studio catalog is available.” Original programming in the space has also started to pop up, he said. Tubi has started to ad originals, he noted with a nod to fellow panelist Sam Harowitz, VP of content acquisition and partnerships at the streamer.

“Our overarching strategy is to superserve passionate communities,” Harowitz said, noting that Tubi has a library of 40,000 titles. In measuring Tubi’s success, he looks at “the total view time that a customer is spending on our service.” Tubi is also built around machine learning, which helps to serve up better content to consumers the more they watch, he said, driving engagement.

While distribution is cheap in the marketplace, FAST Studios’ McLean said, “At the end of the day, you still have to have scale.”

As streamers jockey for distribution partners, carriage conflicts like those frequently experienced in the cable marketplace could become more common, said Vizio’s Bergman, pointing to the dustup between Roku and HBO Max.

“One will look to have the upper hand when maybe they shouldn’t,” he said, pointing out that carriers might say, “I am fine without your content if those are the terms.”

The first day of the conference also included company presentations with details about lineups, content promotion and other plans for the coming year. Presenting companies included FAST Studios, which highlighted the launch of the Women’s Sports Network with an ESPN and surf star; Cinedigm, which outlined its genre-based channels and a partnership with Roundtable Entertainment; Future Today, which highlighted its kids and family content; Plex, which spotlighted its new content discovery product; and AfroLandTV, which highlighted its African content and a move into original programming starting with an African food show.

IFTA and AFM Exec Jonathan Wolf to Step Down

The Independent Film & Television Alliance announced that Jonathan Wolf, managing director of its American Film Market and EVP of the trade association, will step down when his current term ends on June 30.  

Jonathan Wolf

Wolf, who has led the AFM for 24 years, will continue on as an advisor through the 2022 AFM, which is set to make its in-person return to Santa Monica for the 43rd edition Nov. 1-6. 

Under Wolf’s leadership, the AFM transformed from its import-export roots to an event that serves and includes the entire independent film production and distribution community.

During his tenure, Wolf enhanced the market’s tools for buyers and sellers. He launched TheFilmCatalogue.com, a leading industry resource with information on thousands of projects and films available from global producers, distributors and sales companies, and its companion “TFC Weekly Update” email. He also introduced networking and education programs, including multi-stage conferences and panels, and the MyAFM online platform. 

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“Jonathan has been central to the success of the association’s growth and transitions,” IFTA’s president and CEO Jean Prewitt said in a statement. “He consistently has focused on making the AFM the best place for the industry to do business and has built an outstanding and long-established AFM team who share his commitment to excellence. We are grateful that Jonathan will be available to advise through the 2022 market.”

“It’s been a privilege to lead the AFM and work with passionate volunteer board members for more than 20 years,” Wolf said in a statement. “I was supported by a terrific team that worked tirelessly to produce a world class event; we achieved much together.  I’m excited to see what the future holds — for the AFM, IFTA and me.” 

With the IFTA, Wolf spearheaded the launch of IFTA Collections, the industry’s first centralized service for the collection and distribution of royalties and levies from secondary audio-visual rights for films and television programming.  To date, IFTA has collected more than $150 million for its clients and continues to distribute more than $5 million annually.   

Wolf’s connection to the IFTA began as an elected board member and vice chairman, finance, while CFO at IFTA Member New World International. He joined the association as SVP in 1993 and was appointed to lead the AFM as managing director in 1998.

NAB Show Launches April 23 With Attendees From 154 Countries

The NAB Show, the annual conference for broadcast, entertainment and technology professionals, will host attendees from 154 countries April 23–27 in Las Vegas, according to organizers.

Speakers at the show include Nick Cannon, Ashleigh Banfield, Lester Holt, Byron Allen and comedian Jim Gaffigan.

Attendees from outside the United States make up nearly one-quarter of all pre-registered 2022 NAB Show attendees, which closely mirrors the 2019 NAB Show percentage, according to organizers.

“At a time when content can travel around the world in a blink of an eye, there is nothing like NAB Show to help the content community discover the tools, trainings and insights that will unleash the next global phenomenon,” said Chris Brown, NAB EVP and managing director of global connections and events, in a statement. “We are excited to welcome back our friends and partners from all across the globe as our industry gets back to doing business in person.”

The NAB Show participates in the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Trade Event Partnership Program, which recruits international trade delegations to select U.S. trade shows and connects international buyers with U.S. suppliers.

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Delegations attending the show hail from Brazil, Columbia, Germany, India, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria, Panama, Peru, Turkey, Vietnam and more.

The NAB Show’s exhibit floor, located in the North Hall, Central Hall and the newly constructed West Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center, will host 358 exhibitors from 38 countries outside of the United States, including the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Belgium and France. The exhibition will also host the following pavilions:

  • Bavarian Pavilion — Central Hall
  • Brazilian Pavilion — North Hall
  • French Pavilion — West Hall
  • Great Britain & Northern Ireland Pavilion — North Hall
  • Global Trade Show Row — West Hall

 

Additionally, several international organizations, including the Brazilian Society of Television Engineering (SET), will host meetings for their members at the NAB Show. Demonstrations of global technologies currently deployed outside of the United States will also be conducted by broadcasters and other media and entertainment companies throughout the confab.  

The NAB Show is put on by the National Association of Broadcasters, an advocacy association for America’s broadcasters. The NAB advances radio and television interests in legislative, regulatory and public affairs.

Q&A: DEG Chief Amy Jo Smith Reflects on the Trade Group’s Quarter Century

As president and CEO of DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group, Amy Jo Smith heads the leading trade group for the home entertainment industry, representing the interests of the world’s largest media and entertainment companies, consumer electronics manufacturers, platform providers and technology companies.

A former White House communications advisor, Smith since 1997 has led the industry-funded group’s efforts to enhance and promote home entertainment during its evolution from videocassettes to DVDs, Blu-ray Discs and today’s digital age.

Under Smith’s leadership, the DEG is credited with helping to make DVD the fastest-growing consumer electronics product in industry history. In 2019, the DEG launched the D2C Alliance Council as a working community within the DEG to represent the global direct-to-consumer media industry and support its members to help create a robust marketplace to lead the new era of content consumption.

Media Play News asked Smith about the achievements, continuing work and aims of the DEG.

MPN: On the eve of the association’s 25th anniversary, tell us about DEG’s mission and how it has evolved with the industry.

Smith: The DEG’s first mission was to support the product launch of the DVD format. At the time, we were focused on attracting industry support and consumer adoption of the format. Many credit the DEG’s efforts with being a catalyst for DVD’s success as the fastest-growing product in consumer electronics history.   

As consumer interest for physical and digital entertainment has evolved, so has the DEG. We are here to serve the industry in helping to improve the consumer experience with the various ways they consume entertainment content in 2022 and beyond.   

MPN: What do you consider the group’s three major accomplishments? 

Smith: The DEG aims to create a unique, collaborative environment to enable leading content, delivery, device and technology companies to work together to grow the category. Our goal is to help leading media and entertainment companies make informed decisions to grow their businesses. Here are just a few of these:

  • The DEG spearheaded the industry’s efforts for a unified approach in designing and displaying new packaged media and consumer messaging, as witnessed by 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, Digital Copy and Digital Download.
  • The DEG has led numerous consumer research projects to help demystify the benefits associated with new digital experiences. Some examples include the industry’s first research on the prospects for home 3D, digital collecting and, most recently, the study commissioned by the DEG’s D2C Alliance Targeted Services committee from SmithGeiger to inform on streaming user behavior related to targeted SVOD and AVOD services.
  • More than two decades ago, the DEG was established to support the launch of DVD. This helped to unify a number of fragmented marketing efforts into a single, powerful voice and was largely responsible for the format becoming arguably the most successful entertainment platform in history.

 

But the DEG’s proudest accomplishment is its ability to adjust to the changing dynamics of the industry to support member companies in their efforts to grow the industry and improve content delivery to fans. 
 
MPN: How has the pandemic changed the way DEG relates to and serves its members?   

Smith: With members unable to travel and commute to business meetings, we’ve been able to assemble executives more quickly. This has allowed us to move projects and activities faster. The DEG was quick to launch its virtual Expos, curated video sessions highlighting relevant topics. The Expos were received so favorably, attended by nearly 200 executives representing 50 companies on average in 2021, encouraging staff to produce these events about every six weeks. Our Expo on localization even resulted in the formation of our Advanced Content Delivery Alliance (ACDA) localization committee, which is now focusing on the need for a standard definition of quality across the localization industry.  

The DEG has always been a high-touch organization, providing customized customer care to meet varying needs. We brought this to the forefront of what we do during the pandemic. Members have told us how much this meant to them, to be able to count on us to bring pressing issues into committees, surging trends to Expos and to make introductions to enable networking in a WFH environment.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge Marcy Magiera, Andi Elliott and Jean Levicki on our team, who have been key to our success here. Everyone has worked tirelessly while navigating their own pandemic challenges.  

MPN: There are now two major “Alliances” within the DEG — the Direct-to-Consumer Alliance (D2CA) and the Advanced Content Delivery Alliance (ACDA). How are these different from one another? How do they serve the members differently than the core DEG? 

Smith: The D2C Alliance was established nearly three years ago to put a focus on companies with a direct-to-consumer offering. We wanted to shift the conversation away from the “streaming wars” and emphasize the burgeoning business opportunities available and exciting ways for consumers to get their TV, filmed, news, sports and specialty content. 

About a year ago, we analyzed our membership. Originally a content owner-based organization, we had a surge of member companies with products and services that help bring the content to market. We brought their voices to the forefront with the creation of the Advanced Content Delivery Alliance. In ACDA, members explore new ways to improve delivery of content. We are incredibly excited about the enthusiastic and worthwhile discussions and projects taking place in the Alliance. Through its Supply Chain Efficiency and Security committee, for example, the Alliance seeks to address obstructions within workflows due to the narrowing of windows, additional post work required for the home entertainment window, security challenges, and the threat landscape brought on by pirates.   

These Alliances allow the DEG to put a spotlight on pressing issues that members are focused on. We’re pleased with the support and participation we’ve received from members who are joining committees and giving input on agenda items we can tackle as an industry.

MPN: There was no annual DEG reception at CES in Las Vegas this year. When can the industry look forward to that event again? 

 Smith: There is going to be a DEG annual reception! Our annual reception will take place May 3 in Los Angeles at Skirball Cultural Center as part of our inaugural EnTech Fest. Members have been asking us for years to move the annual reception to Los Angeles so that it’s more accessible to L.A.-based folks.
  
Our EnTech Fest is a B2B event on May 3 and 4 built around what’s new and what’s next in content distribution and display technology. This forum will allow companies with products and services that enable distribution of content to showcase their latest offerings. EnTech will be different from other events in that we are focusing specifically on products for entertainment distribution.   

EnTech Fest will also have a special section dedicated to start-ups. Start Up Alley, as we’re calling it, will allow embryonic companies the chance to get in front of leading entertainment and technology companies.   

We’re excited that companies including Blu Digital Group, Dolby, DTS, Google TV, Intel, Looper Insights, NBCUniversal, NPD Group, Paramount, Synamedia and WarnerMedia are already supporting EnTech and, in some cases, Start Up Alley specifically. 

And, yes, EnTech will also be special because our annual reception will be held at that time!

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MPN: And now tell us the Amy Jo story — how did you get involved in the DEG, and why? 

Smith: Prior to DVD’s format launch, I was introduced to Warren Lieberfarb, the “father of DVD.” Warren tapped me to lead the consortium to support the global launch of the disc format for two to three years. As Warren described it, if we’re successful, there won’t be a need for the DEG any longer. And, if we’re not successful, there won’t be a need for the DEG, either.    

The way in which we’ve been able to constantly adjust our agenda to best meet the needs of the industry is what I’m most proud of. There are many DEG board leaders who have been instrumental in this. Our hats off to Bob Chapek, Ron Sanders, Mike Dunn, Mike Fasulo and Eddie Cunningham, to name a few. And our current board directors who have been instrumental in steering the DEG during the pandemic, including Jim Wuthrich, Dan Cohen, Matt Strauss, Andrea Downing, Rick Hack and Bob Buchi.  

The DEG is only as good as the people who participate in it to make it so. The organization is strong because of all the smart, forward-thinking executives who lean into the DEG. We are happy to know they rely on the DEG to be their organization to support the many emerging ways to deliver content.  I’m proud to be part of the DEG family. Our thanks to the many collaborative partnerships we have in the industry, including MPN.

FAST, AVOD Services Getting Better, More-Exclusive Content, OTT.X@Pipeline Panelists Say

Free ad-supported TV (FAST) and ad-supported VOD (AVOD) services are becoming the hot ticket in digital distribution, according to panelists at the 14th Annual OTT.X@Pipeline event in Los Angeles Dec. 8.

“Suddenly, AVOD is becoming part of the broader distribution strategy for major studios and indie studios alike, whereas in the early days, AVOD services had just 10, 15-year-old catalog,” said Pluto TV’s Will Gurman.

Now, content owners are looking at an earlier window for ad-supported release, and the business is looking for exclusives.

“There’s a huge opportunity now with indie producers, and we’ve done this with a number of films, where in a traditional pay one window we might come in and provide some level of AVOD exclusivity, and we market and we promote, treat the film the way that you’d see years ago from SVOD services before they started moving more and more into originals,” Gurman said.

The business is projected to reach $4 billion by 2024, said Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia, and “a lot of the growth in this industry has happened in the last 18 months.”

Pluto TV, owned by ViacomCBS, is a FAST service with more than 300 channels in the United States and is in 26 regions globally. The service also has thousands of titles available via AVOD.

“We’re about 8 years old and Pluto’s really founded with the contrarian principle,” Gurman said. “When everyone was going to SVOD and going to VOD, Pluto went the other way and went back to linear and back to ad-supported and presented a platform of channels in a familiar format and familiar content and were really a pioneer in growing and building out the FAST channel space.”

As ad-supported services have joined the space, differentiation is becoming more important to rise above the competition, he said.

“Differentiation is key for us now,” he said. But rather than focusing on originals, the service is looking for original channels.

“Certain platforms are investing heavily into original content,” he noted. “For us at Pluto, one thing we’ve really focused on and continued to focus on is differentiating on our channels and making sure — while we don’t have original content — the majority of channels can’t be found on other platforms,” he said. “A great example of that recently was a channel that we launched with professional bull riders, a fantastic organization with a fan base of over 80 million in the U.S.”

The company had been a niche SVOD service.

“We quickly learned about their marketing strength, how strong and important their fan base was and what their experience had been as a niche SVOD service, looking at potentially transitioning them to a new business model that could help them reach a broader audience,” he said.

Now, the bull-riding content has its own ad-supported channel exclusively on Pluto.

“It’s called PBR Ridepass, and we’re certainly looking to do more types of opportunities like that,” Gorman said.

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In fact, the ad-supported PBR channel launched on Pluto on the day the SVOD service shut down.

“We worked hand and hand with them on marketing to all their subscribers [about the transition],” Gorman said.

“It’s not just about the PBR channel in isolation,” he added. “We have a strong audience that likes content with a strong overlap. We have channels of outdoor content, we have action movies. ‘Walker Texas Ranger’ is a great overlap in content.”

Meanwhile, PBR helps viewers discover other channels they like on Pluto, he said.

“There’s a huge opportunity for SVOD platforms to offer linear channels in the AVOD space,” Gurman noted, adding Pluto TV has a channel with Britbox.

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Mike Woods, a veteran of digital content service company Amagi, has started Orka TV to help ad buyers find easier ways to utilize AVOD and FAST services. The digital realm is rapidly becoming the new TV, he said.

“It is all available,” he said. “Everything can be done now.”

He noted that a channel that used to cost $500 million to set up, now costs just thousands.

Gurman and Woods noted that the monthly active users (MAU) measure of ad-supported service success is antiquated and can be fudged — for instance by counting imagined co-viewers. Pluto TV focuses on viewing hours or revenue, for instance. Revenue per hours of viewing is a key metric, Woods said.

“If you’re getting revenue per second, you’re doing pretty good,” he said.

OTT.X Announces 2022 Events

OTT.X has announced its 2022 roster of events, which are all expected to be held in-person, according to the trade organization for streamers.

The Annual OTT.X Breakfast at CES will be held Jan. 5 at the Stirling Club in Las Vegas.

The Annual OTT.X Summit will be held Aug. 31 to Sept. 1 at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles and will consist of two days of conference programming and workshops as well as facilitated business meetings, a marketplace, and networking opportunities, as well as — new this year — a “pitch” track.

The 2022 Leadership Development Foundation Summit, in its third year but in-person for the first time, will be held on March 3, also at the Skirball Cultural Center.  The in-person event will enable inclusion of more interactive and one-on-one segments between junior professionals and senior leaders, in addition to conference-type programming and general networking.

The OTT.X Roundtable Sessions will be held Feb. 17 in the Los Angeles area and on Oct. 6 in New York City. Salons will take place on the evenings of May 10 and Dec. 6 in Los Angeles and on July 13 in NYC.

The third annual OTT.X Impact Awards are scheduled to be held in the Los Angeles area on Dec. 6.

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Two new events have been added to the OTT.X annual calendar — The OTT.X-Fronts on April 12 and 13 at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles and the OTT.X Diversity Summit on June 9 in the Los Angeles area. The OTT.X-Fronts will facilitate efficient presentations and meetings between OTT platforms and channels with advertisers, agencies and brands. The Diversity Summit will provide a platform for content creators, distributors and service providers to engage in bilateral discussions and negotiations, share learnings, learn about best practices, and collaborate to support the advancement of minority professionals and organizations.

“We are excited to offer such a vibrant schedule of activities — in-person — to keep our community engaged and active throughout the year, and we are especially excited about the new additions to our roster of events — the OTT.X-Fronts and the Diversity Summit,” Mark Fisher, OTT.X President and CEO, said in a statement.

For more information, email Jose Rodriguez at jrodriguez@ottx.org.

 

AFM 2021 Moves Entirely Online

The American Film Market (AFM) will move its 2021 edition entirely online, the Independent Film & Television Alliance (IFTA) announced.

AFM 2021 Online will be held Nov. 1-5, shifting one day earlier than its original dates. Registration for the five-day online event is now open.

AFM 2021 Online will feature Industry Offices, Screenings, Conferences, Panels and Workshops, the Networking Pavilion, LocationEXPO and more. Event updates will be announced regularly via email, social media and the AFM Website.

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“We wish we could welcome the global industry back to Santa Monica but travel regulations, increased concerns about coronavirus variants around the world, and government restrictions on the ground prevent us from moving forward,” Michael Ryan, chairperson of IFTA and partner at GFM Films, said in a statement. “However, IFTA is thrilled to host the market the industry expects — where no one will be excluded and all of our stakeholders can immerse themselves for five days dedicated to deal making, discovery, education, and reconnecting.”

OTT.X Fall Summit Moving Outside, Requiring COVID-19 Vaccination or Test

The OTT.X. Fall Summit, taking place Sept. 1-2 at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, will move all activities outside, and attendees will be required to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test within 72 hours of the start of the event.

Masks will not be required outdoors but will be required indoors at the Skirball Center during the event.

“We are aware of and have been closely monitoring the recent rise in COVID-19 cases,” read an email from OTT.X. “So, in an abundance of caution and for the safety of our attendees, we have decided to take the Fall Summit outdoors.

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“All conference components including the main conference program, workshops, tabletops, meetings, cocktail receptions and more will be held outdoors. We have also instated some protocols to follow to ensure the health and safety of the conference.”

NAB Show to Require Proof of COVID-19 Vaccination

The NAB Show scheduled for Oct. 9-13 in Las Vegas and associated co-located events will require attendees to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination, Chris Brown, EVP and managing director of global connections and events for the National Association of Broadcasters, wrote in an email to the community.

“While the enthusiasm is building, we are keenly aware of health and safety concerns tied to the spread of the COVID-19 Delta variant and want to assure you that we are putting in place a comprehensive, data-driven plan that prioritizes safety and creates a productive environment at these events,” he wrote. “We have worked for the past several weeks to finalize protocols that will maximize the experience and safety of all members of the NAB Show community. This process has involved extensive consultation with health and safety experts, gathering feedback from a range of exhibitors and attendees, and review of the safety measures recommended by national and local health authorities, including Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak’s important announcement this week regarding large events.”

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The show floor will feature major brands such as Amazon Web Services, AJA, B&H, Canon, Grass Valley, MediaKind, Panasonic, Ross, Sony, Verizon and more, he wrote.

Major industry events, such as the Radio Show, Sales and Management Television Exchange and AES Show, will co-locate in Las Vegas.

T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert to Deliver Keynote at CES 2022

The Consumer Technology Association has announced that T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert will deliver a keynote address during CES 2022 taking place Jan. 5-8, 2022, in Las Vegas.

Sievert’s keynote will discuss 5G innovations for consumers, businesses and thought leadership — and spotlight a look into the future of how these advancements are enabling people to work, communicate and learn more efficiently, according to the CTA.

“As we return to in-person events, we look forward to convening innovators and business leaders from around the world who will showcase how technology impacts and improves every facet of our daily lives,” Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of CTA, said in a statement. “The pace of innovation has accelerated over the last 18 months, and the rapid roll-out of 5G will only increase the momentum. There’s so much excitement in this space and for the first time, we welcome Mike Sievert to our keynote stage to share more about T-Mobile’s vision for fueling 5G innovation.”

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CES 2022 will showcase 5G technologies and bring together industry advocates, including Sievert, to share insights on the where 5G is headed, according to the CTA.

“The last year has shown us the critical role connectivity plays in our lives — for consumers, businesses and society as a whole,” Sievert said in a statement. “As the nation’s 5G leader, T-Mobile is driving a transformation in wireless communications. I can’t wait to keynote CES 2022 and showcase new ways this 5G network is unleashing game-changing innovations both now and in the future.”

The keynotes at CES 2022 will be viewed in-person in Las Vegas and accessed across the globe through the digital experience.