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Companies Battle for Digital Content at CES

Tuesday, 8 Jan 2013 | 12:38 PM ET
CES: Digital Content Wars
Digital distributors like Netflix and YouTube, along with cable and satellite TV companies, are fighting to make their content stand out. Here at CES, they're launching new mobile apps and showcasing flashy new technology to hold onto subscribers in a competitive and commoditized environment. Julia Boorstin brings you the latest from CES.

CES is all about streaming video this year: nearly all the 20,000 devices featured on the show floor feature access to Netflix, Amazon, Hulu Plus, YouTube, plus content apps like HBO Go, Xfinity, and endless others from cable and satellite TV companies. (Read More: What Do 'Cable Nevers' Mean for TV's Future?)

Bottom line: access to content has been commoditized, so all these digital and traditional content distributors have to fight to make their content stand out—and their subscription services worthwhile.

So all these companies are trying to distinguish themselves with two strategies: 1) they're investing in original and exclusive content, 2) and they're showcasing flashy new technology, which embraces consumers obsession with mobile devices and delivers a personalized experience. (Read More: Here's What to Expect at CES 2013 )

The digital distribution business is getting increasingly crowded—with Amazon stepping up investment in original content and Verizon's Redbox Instant joining the fray.

Netflix is also stepping up its game, revealing some new bells and whistles, including a personalized profiles feature it's testing. That means multiple people using the same account can save videos in their queue, and receive custom recommendations to their own profile. (Parents no longer will be barraged with recommendations for Sponge Bob.)

In addition, Netflix is showing off a test of streaming in 3-D, and an app that allows consumers to use smart phones and tablets as a remote control.

Using mobile devices as remote controls is also a trend here at CES. Google owned YouTube is also showing off its new app, which allows people to find YouTube videos on their mobile device, to watch on any TV— not just a Google TV. (Read More: Meet the Gadgets That Will Save Your Phone—and You )

But the biggest news comes from the cable and satellite TV providers as they embrace the web with new mobile apps, designed to keep their subscribers hooked—and prevent them from cutting the cord.

Cox Communications, which has about 5 million cable subscribers, unveiled a new iPad app, along with an Internet-connected set top box, which it created in partnership with Cisco System.

The app allows consumers to browse live TV, on-demand content, as well as streaming video options from the likes of Netflix.

The idea is to offer an app to navigate all the possible content options, with the flick of a finger, and without a gaggle of clunky remotes. Cox also said it plans to integrate with more online video and music apps, like Pandora. Much like Netflix's plan to roll out individual user profiles, Cox is also going to offer each member of the family individualized recommendations,

Cox and Cisco are joining Comcast, which is already rolling out its cloud-based X1 set top box. And here at CES Dish showed off its Hopper digital video recorder.

Now Dish is integrating the Hopper with Sling Media to watch both recorded and live TV on any Internet-enabled device—no longer restricted to their home. Subscribers don't even need Internet access to watch their content—a new feature allows consumers to download DVRed video before say, getting on a flight.

Dish CEO Joe Clayton says the company is evolving to keep up with consumer demand.

"I don't think they get everything they want from apps," he said after Dish's press conference. "It's all about mob video. Its about creating the best TV everywhere experience. We are competing in a saturated market. Content differentiation doesn't exist anymore. We are trying to differentiate based on technology."

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CES 2013 Videos

  • Rocco Pendola, TheStreet.com, weighs in on whether it is time for Apple to drop Best Buy, and why it may not be in the tech giant's best interest to produce cheaper versions of its products.

  • CNBC's Mary Thompson reports American Express is cutting 5,400 jobs; and Dan Ackerman, CNET senior editor, discusses some of the hottest items at the Consumer Electronic Show this year.

  • CNBC's Jon Fortt is at CES in Las Vegas, where he interviews John Aden, executive vp of general merchandise for Wal-Mart. Aden talks about what he finds interesting and what is lacking on the show floor.