CES Reporter's Notebook: Uber, Lyft Hit Las Vegas Strip

2:33 PM 1/5/2016

by Natalie Jarvey

A running tally of notes and observations from THR's tech reporter in Las Vegas as the annual electronics show takes over the city.

Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Staff writer Natalie Jarvey will log about CES here throughout the week-long show, offering observations and stories from inside the hotel ballrooms and convention center show floor. 

  • Friday, Jan. 8

    Getting around Las Vegas.

    Illustration by: Melinda Josie
    11 a.m. — Much has been made of Uber and Lyft’s introduction to Las Vegas. The ride-sharing services were given the green light to operate in Sin City last fall.
     
    Both companies have had a big presence, and low prices, at CES to take advantage of the swarm of techies already familiar with their services. They have each set up designated stations outside the Convention Center where passengers can be picked up and dropped off, for example. Lyft is also giving $50 in ride credits to new passengers, while Uber is offering free wi-fi and a free ride for new passengers. 
     
    To take it one step further, Uber has also partnered with helicopter tour company Maverick for UberCHOPPER, which offers a night tour of The Strip for $99 a person. It is available through January 9, weather permitting. 
     
    But even with two new transportation options, getting around during CES was its usual madhouse. Over the course of my four days in Vegas, I took two official CES shuttles, one Uber and nine cabs (in addition to walking more than 17 miles). Most lines were prompt and drives quick but on Wednesday night I waited 40 minutes outside of the Westgate Hotel near the Convention Center for a cab back to The Strip. I considered ditching the line for Uber or Lyft, until I discovered that surge pricing was in effect, causing my ride to be at least two times its normal price. Ultimately, my 30 minute cab ride to The Cosmopolitan came in at nearly $29. 
  • Thursday, Jan. 7

    Partying on The Strip.

    MediaLink's 2015 CES Party
    MediaLink's 2015 CES Party
    Courtesy of MediaLink

    4:15 p.m. — It’s not Las Vegas without a party and CES is full of them. 

    Invites to happy hours, cocktail parties and late night soirees abound. And with events happening on both ends of the Strip, a smart CES attendee will pick only a few parties at which to try to make an appearance, or else suffer the fate of spending most of the night in the back of a cab. This reporter has kept her party calendar occupied. Here’s what I've observed so far: 
     
    Consulting firm MediaLink kicked things off Tuesday night with their annual bash at Encore’s XS nightclub. A line was already out the door when I showed up a little after 9 p.m. There was even a line for people not on the list but desperate to make their way into the event. 
     
    The inside of the club was packed with media buyers, digital executives and Hollywood agents, who noshed on sushi and mini grilled cheese sandwiches and took advantage of the open bar. Flipboard held court in a side room, where photographer Peter Read Miller had set up a photo booth for party attendees. 
     
    On Wednesday night, Hulu and Google held competing parties for C Space attendees. Google’s event, co-hosted by Chromecast, Google Play and YouTube, featured a performance by Fetty Wap at the Bellagio’s Hyde. A more buttoned up Hulu event at Aria’s Masa restaurant offered cucumber-flavored shooters atop a Hulu ice sculpture and a sushi bar. 
     
    Musical performances are a big part of the CES party experience. In addition to Fetty Wap, CNET hosted a performance from Beck at the Brooklyn Bowl Tuesday night, and a private MediaLink soiree on Wednesday night featured Lady Gaga. According to Tweets, she joked with the small group of executives, “I figured I’d just take my clothes off and sing some classics for you nerds.” 
     
  • Wednesday, Jan. 6

    The show floor opens.

    Reed Hastings
    Reed Hastings
    Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    11 a.m. — The first official day of CES brought a brief break in the rain and a glimpse of sunshine, but reporters were too busy covering Netflix's big announcement — that it launched in 130 new countries this morning — to notice.

    In true Netflix fashion, the streaming giant kept the press waiting for the news. The morning keynotes began in the Venetian hotel at 8:30 with a musical performance from Lexie Hayden, the winner of the Be Our #CES2016 Soundtrack contest. Then, Consumer Technology Association CEO Gary Shapiro gave a 30 min overview of the latest CES news, including explaining why the group that organizes the event changed its name from the Consumer Electronics Association. "The new name more accurately represents the growth, the excitement and the innovative spirit of the industry we represent," he said.

    At long last, Hastings took the stage. But instead of launching straight into the news, he showed a video clip highlighting Netflix's role in the changing TV landscape. After an overview of the Netflix business — people watched 12 billion hours of Netflix during the fourth quarter, he boasted — content chief Ted Sarandos joined him on stage.

    He treated audiences to two exclusive clips of upcoming series The Crown, about the British royal family, and Baz Luhrmann hip-hop drama The Get Down. Then, he brought out Chelsea Handler, the star of upcoming documentary series Chelsea Does, to interview Netflix stars Wagner Moura (Narcos), Krysten Ritter (Jessica Jones) and Will Arnett (Bojack Horseman). It was the most star power CES had seen all week as the foursome praised the experience of working for Netflix. Perhaps it was practice before Netflix appears in front of the Television Critics Association on Jan. 17.

    The actors joked amiably with each other on stage. Moura, who plays drug lord Pablo Escobar joked about gaining weight for the roll, to which Handler quipped: “How does cocaine get you fat?” Later, Handler found her way onto his lap and commented on her comfy new seat. Moura responded, "It's because of the belly."

    But while the crowd enjoyed their banter, Netflix was quietly turning on service in over 100 countries. Reuters tweeted that Netflix had launched in India during the celebrity panel. But Hastings, who appeared to enjoy teasing the audience, returned to the stage to announce with great fanfare: “Today, I am delighted to announce that while we have been here on stage at CES, we switched Netflix on in Azerbaijan.” A collective groan appeared to ripple through the crowd until he continued, “in Vietnam, in India, in Nigeria, in Poland, in Russia, in Saudi Arabia, in Singapore, in South Korea, in Turkey, in Indonesia and in 130 new countries.”

    A small group of journalists reconvened with Netflix executives at a showroom that included comfy couches, big screen TVs and cronuts to hear more about the company’s international expansion. When asked how Netflix was able to turn on service in so many countries at once, Hastings responded, “The internet is a beautiful thing because its naturally global, you have to inhibit it.” He also noted that the company worked with local ISPs to prepare for the launches and had been negotiating content rights for library programming in those countries.

  • Tuesday, Jan. 5

    Press day begins.

    Kazuo Hirai
    Kazuo Hirai
    AP Images

    8:00 p.m. — Press preview day has come to an end, wrapping up with Sony's annual evening event. Unlike the other presentations, Sony hosts its event at the Sony booth on the show floor. And the electronics giant must have known what a long day it was for the media, because staffers in black handed out beers before CEO Kazuo Hirai took the stage.

    The hour-long event featured few product announcements, attendees were clearly restless despite the beers. But Hirai's especially long speech did contain a few interesting CES facts:

    - There are more than 2,000 square feet of exhibit space, the equivalent of 35 football fields. That's three more fields than there are in the NFL.

    - More than 150,000 industry professionals attend CES. That's 600,000 lbs of food, or roughly 300 elephants.

    - Attendees come from as many as 150 nations, representing 77 percent of the world's population.

    - There were 2.88 billion impressions for the #CES2014 hashtag.

    - There is one slot machine for every eight residents in Las Vegas.

    - Sony has sold a total of 35.9 million PlayStation 4 units worldwide, or the equivalent of 59 units for every resident of Las Vegas.



    1:30 p.m. — CES doesn't officially start until tomorrow, but it's press day here in Las Vegas, which means that reporters from far and wide have arrived a day (or two) early to hear from electronics stalwarts LG, Panasonic, Samsung, Sony and more.

    This might be the one time of the year in Las Vegas where the hotel convention halls are busier than the resort swimming pools. But this week, there's added incentive to stay camped out inside Mandalay Bay for press day: the dark clouds and occasional rainfall outside.

    This morning, a reporter settling into her seat in the press room commented to a friend that she forgot to bring her rain coat. That makes at least two fair-weather members of the media not expecting rain storms in Vegas. This reporter left her umbrella at home.

    But that's nothing compared to the flight issues that the weather has caused. A storm rolled into Las Vegas this morning, bringing with it a weather advisory for McCarran International Airport. Many flights, especially those traveling from El Nino-impacted Los Angeles and San Francisco, were delayed or cancelled altogether. My early-morning flight was apparently one of the few that made it to Sin City before the storm, but there are many frustrated would-be CES attendees who will arrive late tonight or tomorrow. A CES spokeswoman says registration and check-in is open late to accommodate those affected by the delays.

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