MAKING NOISE AT CES COMPUTER MARKETERS SHOW OFF, BUT FAIL TO ENTHRALL CROWDS

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LAS VEGAS-Consumer electronics, computers and communications converged last week, but the meeting was more virtual than reality.

At the winter Consumer Electronics Show, purveyors of personal computers and futuristic communications services made the most noise. But at a show more accustomed to the cacophony of CD players and stereo TVs, not everyone listened to the new arrivals.

Computer chip leader Intel Corp. recycled an elaborate walk-through display that was a hit two months ago at the Comdex/Fall computer show here, but most people walked past it.

"So what the hell did Intel do?" one attendee asked a colleague.

What Intel-and other first-time computer exhibitors including software leader Microsoft Corp.-did was jockey for position in the booming home computer market.

Despite the arrival of some new faces, there was no smash hit in new products. But the consumer electronics industry is doing OK. U.S. consumer electronics sales last year grew 6.3% to a record $39.7 billion as the economy strengthened, estimates the Electronic Industries Association, sponsor of CES.

The $6 billion videogame market is also booming, with Sega of America within striking distance this year of taking the No. 1 mantle from Nintendo of America, some analysts say.

Nintendo is fighting back and will increase ad spending 25% to 30% this year, said George Harrison, director of corporate communications and marketing.

Sony Imagesoft, Sony's videogame software unit, this spring will introduce a baseball game, ESPN Baseball Tonight, through a tie-in with Little Caesars Pizza.

And Sega-the latest sign of Silicon Valley interacting with Hollywood-said an existing Beverly Hills outpost will be expanded to work on interactive, film-based entertainment, like videogames featuring live actors.

Others are going the opposite direction: Hollywood's MCA, owned by Japanese consumer electronics giant Matsushita, last week started a videogame and interactive software division, following the lead of Sony, Time Warner and Paramount Communications.

At CES, Sony pushed MiniDisc, an advanced platform for portable playback and recording of music. To create awareness, Sony will attach a MiniDisc sampler to the front cover of an issue of Rolling Stone this spring.

Sony is also developing a national print campaign for MiniDisc through Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, spending $5 million to $10 million on the ads and promotions through the third quarter, officials said.

Some products and technologies getting attention at CES will have to land before they can take off.

General Magic, a software developer backed by AT&T and Apple Computer, pushed technology allowing people to program PCs, personal communicators, phones or TV sets to handle mundane tasks like banking, trip routing or comparison shopping electronically. General Magic Chairman-CEO Marc Porat said more than half of U.S. households will be hooked up 10 years from now.

Packard Bell, the longtime leader in PC sales in consumer electronics and discount stores, introduced a stylized new logo and packaging. Agency Stein Robaire Helm, Los Angeles, this spring will start the marketer's first major TV and print ad campaign.

Ziff-Davis Publishing Co. and Walt Disney Co., as expected, announced a joint venture for a family-oriented computer magazine (AA, Jan 3).

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Jan Jaben, editor of sister publication Business Marketing, contributed to this story.

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