CES Becomes Season of Second Chances for Sony and Intel

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, known as CES, isn't what it used to be, back in the day. I well remember a CES where I joined another reporter trying to corner Steven Spielberg, David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg there when they were launching Dreamworks.

That kind of starpower is no longer part of the show. Neither are the biggest consumer electronics players. Apple ( AAPL) left years ago, and Microsoft ( MSFT) sold off their prime booth space last year. Google ( GOOG) is now the show's lead dog, but it's not really a consumer products company.

So Las Vegas will have to make do with second-rate stars (although they're used to that already, am I right?). And two of the most intriguing at next week's show will be Sony ( SNE) and Intel ( INTC).

Sony's reputation has become like that of Carrot Top (currently playing at the Luxor). Except, of course, that Carrot Top makes money.

Sony is coming out with a new line of Android phones, TechCrunchwrites , with the look and feel of LG's Nexus line. The fact that we're stretching to compare a Sony product to one from LG tells you a lot, none of it good.

Sony's consumer electronics have been dragging the company down for years. Leading Company, an Australian publication, recently ran a Wharton analysis asking whether Sony's reincarnation under new CEO Kizuo Hirai is too little, too late. The TVs are getting killed out there, and like Alex Rodriguez's Yankee contract, it can't be sold because no one wants to take on the risk.

Intel, meanwhile, is more like Penn & Teller (currently playing at the Rio), in that they were really cutting edge in the last century but now seem like the show you'll send your parents to. Intel is flirting with getting into a business Google explicitly got out of last week -- the set-top box business.

The Intel box is supposed to give viewers a choice among cable content, Coinstar's ( CSTR) Redbox service, and Internet streams like those of Google's YouTube. It's also supposed to make everyone a "super Nielsen ( NLSN) family," keeping an eye on who is watching, in this case so that ads can be customized to the viewer.

Supposedly, the geniuses behind the BBC iPlayer and Jawbone Jambox have been put into a "skunk works" operation to come up with the technology. But technology is not the problem.

Progrmaming is why Intel may only be able to tease the new box at this show, PC World reports. Intel wants its box to sell channels a la carte. Comcast, and reportedly the channels it provides carriage for, wants Intel to pay for this privilege, which means consumers would pay extra to have fewer options.

Personally, there are many, many channels I almost never watch, and a very few I'd gladly pay for, but if there are no net savings here why bother?

There's a reason Google has gotten out of this business, and why Apple's entrance has been delayed. It has nothing to do with the technology. It has to do with the reluctance of programmers to get involved. Which reminds me -- Sony has content. In fact, they led the box office returns for 2012.

Might I suggest Intel CEO Paul Otellini invite Kirai to dinner at Bartolotta? I hear their seafood is more entertaining than Penn & Teller raiding a Carrot Top show -- fresher, too.

At the time of publication, the author was long INTC, AAPL, MSFT and GOOG.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.