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How Bill ruined keynotes and Qualcomm got weird and crazy at CES

Trade show keynotes haven't been the same since Bill Gates co-opted them as adverts. At this year's CES, Qualcomm upped the ante. Unfortunately.

Backspin By , Network World
January 11, 2013 04:47 PM ET
Gibbs

Network World - It's all Bill's fault. At one time the big keynote presentations at shows like Comdex (R.I.P.) were glimpses into the future.

The formula used to be that CEOs of leading industry corporations would get up at major events and paint a picture of what was coming next. They'd usually outline major trends and then wrap them up with a forecast for the future.

Then Bill Gates had to go and ruin it.

IN PICTURES: The best of CES 2013

Bill stopped predicting the industry and started telling everyone how great the next round of Microsoft products would be. He'd get up and demo! No more analytical crap ... it became sell, sell, sell! No, let me revise that: Shamelessly sell, sell, sell, sell!

And it worked! No one complained. Well, no one who mattered to Microsoft's bottom line, and so an industry standard was set. Now these events have turned into dog and pony shows that more closely resemble out-and-out advertisements crossed with a three-ring circus run by madmen.

Pretty much every corporate spokesperson doing a keynote now goes for the big pitch, but how do you raise the bar? How do you "one up" when you want to impress?

If you're Qualcomm and you were keynoting the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this year, the answer was clear: You pull out all the stops, hand your presentation over to children to script, and then, when you deliver your opus, you transport your audience to what one attendee described as "some kind of perverse, bizarro universe."

This presentation, which I did not see live (thank the gods), but have enough glimpses of to make me gag, was one of the most ill-conceived, naive, insane, ridiculous keynotes in the history of cringe-worthy keynotes. The Verge has photos and a nice summary reel of the lunacy.

It began with three actors who possessed a degree of animation worthy of the cast of "Glee" on amphetamines and who identified themselves as being "born mobile." They were all simply nauseating.

After these three nonces left the stage, on came Qualcomm's CEO, Paul Jacobs, who proclaimed that we needed to get ready for "Generation M." Sigh. As a member of The Verge's staff attending the event tweeted: "We're not calling it Gen M, Paul Jacobs. YOU CAN'T MAKE ME."

And then, when you were starting to think it couldn't get weirder, Microsoft's own "Monkey Boy" and CEO, Steve Ballmer, trotted out ... well, lolloped out, and dominated Jacobs reducing him to temporary incoherence. A great example of tech-blocking.

Then, just when you thought it couldn't get weirder, out comes movie director Guillermo del Toro to talk about how Qualcomm's new Snapdragon processor could be used in movie making. To underline this, del Toro showed a clip from his forthcoming film "Pacific Rim" followed by a gruesome, bloody clip from "Blade II."

Jacobs then attempted, unconvincingly, to co-opt the "Internet of Things" meme into the company's own "Internet of Everything." No one was buying this. Well, no one in their right mind.

Then out trotted Big Bird with a developer wearing what appeared to be a skinned Big Bird, followed by (on camera) Archbishop Desmond Tutu (honestly, I am not making this up), actress Alice Eve (in person), and a real live all-electric Rolls-Royce.

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