Tech’s High Rollers, Media Machers Compare Notes at CES Opening

It’s some kind of high-class tech-media scrum inside the Tryst nightclub at the Wynn Hotel

It’s some kind of high-class tech-media scrum inside the Tryst nightclub at the Wynn Hotel, just minutes after Microsoft Steve Ballmer completed his opening keynote to a couple of thousand faithful followers on Monday night.

You don’t have to venture very far into the packed, ear-splitting room to find the power center of the consumer electronics industry, gathered by Medialink and GroupM.

Ballmer himself is deep in the darkened space, surrounded by admirers. Microsoft and Xbox executives – from media and entertainment VP Blair Westlake to recently retired Hank Vigil – hover nearby.

(At left, Ballmer with MediaLink’s Xavier Kochhar at Tryst.)

UTA partner Jeremy Zimmer is there, nudged up against former William Morris chairman Jim Wiatt.

A couple of reporters (OK, me, and a Wall Street Journal gal) corner Ross Levinsohn, the head of Yahoo America who this week got a new boss with the appointment of Scott Thompson, formerly of PayPal, as a new CEO.

Also read: CES 2012: Microsoft, New Tablets and the Future of Television

We will attempt not to get Ross in any trouble, but still, we ask: How’s it going?

So far so good, he says. He’s here to promote a new video show with Tom Hanks. But Yahoo still has problems to solve, above the heads of most everybody who works there. Levinsohn will certainly tread carefully in a still-tenuous corporate environment.

Robert Kyncl, the new guru of content at YouTube, manifested himself. (He has not previously returned phone calls. But we are now square.) Speaking analytically, Kyncl – the subject of an endless piece in the latest New Yorker – said that he’s not concerned about the skeptics who say a quality content play on YouTube won’t work.

Also read: Microsoft Brings Fox News, Sesame Street, Comcast to XBox

“I just care about the time,” he said, referring to the time on Youtube being spent by viewers. If that’s going up, he said, then he’s satisfied. His lack of interest in the quality of the content, the core of this new iteration, was pretty surprising.

His point is if the content is engaging, time spent on Youtube will increase. And that’s what advertisers pay for. Kyncl is frustrated that people are spending oodles of time on Facebook. He aims to change that.

I asked who is his closest competition. Before Kyncl could answer, Westlake chimed in that it’s all of television. “The cable companies,” he said.

Ynon Kreiz, who recently stepped down as the CEO of Endemol, stood by and listened. He too is most interested in the future of video content online. “It’s where the change is happening,” he said.

Noah and Jonah Goodhart – two entrepreneurs who were already big winners once in the advertising space with Right Media – are at CES for the first time. They are working on a new product at their new company, Moat, seeking to create accurate metrics for measuring who sees ads online.

“Clicks are over,” said Noah. “Nobody clicks on ads anymore.”

I asked Irwin Gottlieb, the CEO of GroupM and co-host of the soiree, what he got out of CES.  “I used to come when nobody was here,” he said nostalgically amid the pounding house music. “I’d walk the convention floor by myself to get ideas. Now I stay until my clients leave.”

GroupM has some of the biggest clients around. Now Gottlieb has to stay with them all week, and wait until they’re all gone to walk the floor and find inspiration in the new products.

Curiously, no one is talking about the new products. There aren’t that many, although Ballmer showed a number of new laptops, and a brand new desktop design for Windows. (Ballmer has said that he and Microsoft won’t be back at CES again, presumably so they won’t be tied to the CES for announcing their new products — aping the Apple model, which has shunned the electronic Vegas mobfest from the start.)

And at the end of the night, Harry Sloan – former chairman of MGM – is found slouching toward his room across the Wynn lobby. He skipped the party and instead watched the football game in 3D tv, courtesy of ESPN.

He’s staying for the week. Why not? Everybody else is.