Friday, January 11, 2008

CES Booths: More victims of the TV-B-Gone

Way, way back in the heady days of 2004, I wrote a post about the TV-B-Gone, a tiny remote control that can turn off virtually any TV screen. The inventor, a bit of a prick who didn't like going to restaurants that had TVs, thought it was great that he could walk into a store, restaurant, pub, or wherever, whip out this little gizmo, and silence the screens. In fact, the front page of their websites advertises that it can be used at, "airports, bars, restaurants, laundromats, etc." Two years later, I wrote about "new media vandalism" when a couple of kids videotaped themselves shutting off bank after bank of TV at a local Best Buy.

While the TV-B-Gone scene remained quiet for a while, this year at CES the guys at Gizmodo, a gadget blog, decided to have some fun and turn off dozens, if not hundreds, of screens at the various booths that were using them (read: damned near all of them). Once again, they videoed their exploits. Admittedly, it was funny -- for an instant -- to see the confused expressions of people as whole walls went dark. But what wasn't funny was watching the hordes of exhibitor staff trying to figure out what had gone wrong, and then work to turn all of the screens back on.

As an innocent bystander, I was pretty angry with what was clearly an act of vandalism. If I were an exhibitor -- you know, somebody paying tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars to showcase my brand -- I'd be furious. And it looks like I'm not the only one. Gizmodo's comment thread on the exploit voices more than a few complaints, and today, marketing guru Seth Godin decided that he needed to comment on the event as well.

At this point, is there any doubt that turning off screens in an out-of-home environment causes damage to the party that owns/rents that space? Do people really believe they have the right to do this? What separates it from or makes it better than any other form of vandalism?

[UPDATE] c|net reports that this prank got the responsible Gizmodo "reporter" banned from CES for life!


Anonymous said...

At shows and events, perhaps I can understand why exhibitors would have or rent (consumer) LCDs or PDPs but it amazes me in business deployments why one would go to the expense and hassle of using any consumer digital screen complete with all the things you do NOT need - err like a remote control!!!! (volume controls, buttons, sound sometimes, on / off button etc etc)

Without remote control support this 'vandalism' simply does not work (I agree that it is 'vandalism; BTW)

Bill Gerba said...

Hi Adrian,

I agree that consumer-grade screens should generally not be used in public-space installations, *however* this was the CES -- the Consumer Electronics Show, and as such was supposed to be THE place for manufacturers to showcase their consumer goods. I'm sure that lots of those screens simply don't possess a feature that will disable their IR ports, because that's not too useful for the average consumer.

Likewise, WRT simply taping over the IR port (which IS something we do recommend all screen owners do), again the manufacturers shouldn't have to do that. They paid a lot of money for their booths, they spent a lot of time figuring out how to make their kit look as attractive as possible... I see no reason why they should have to mar the appearance of their multi-thousand-dollar screens with a bit of black tape because some show-goers decided to be childish.

CES was right in permanently banning the responsible "reporter" from Gizmodo, and in fact I think they should consider banning that publication entirely. And I were one of the manufacturers... I'm not even sure that a lawsuit would be out of line.