I’m about 20 rows back in the Palazzo Ballroom waiting for Bill Gates to deliver his eighth consecutive pre-CES keynote but Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) co-founder Paul Allen has a front-row seat. He’s next to Viacom (NYSE: VIA) CEO Phillipe Dauman, sitting roughly where he was this time last year with MTVN’s Judy McGrath. The keynote — the last for Gates before he moves away from heading Microsoft fulltime later this year — has just started … I’ll file live as long the access holds out.
Running now … a video loaded with cameos as various Microsoft execs and celebs talk about Bill’s last full day and geeky retirement as he looks at life after Microsoft — Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama, Al Gore, Bono, Spielberg, George Clooney, Jon Stewart, and more. Brian Williams opened and closed with a “newscast” — ending with a reference to Gates’s $7 haircut. Good amusement value …
Now for the business …NBC has chosen Microsoft’s Silverlight and MSN Video as the exclusive video partner for online video for the 2008 Summer Olympics. NBC’s Bob Costas continues the retirement jokes by telling Gates to lose his number, there’s no room for him on the Olympics broadcast team.
— Robbie Bach’s presentation is under way … ABC and Disney (NYSE: DIS) will be bringing TV shows to Xbox Live this month. Also, MGM’s films will be on Xbox Live — “will offer twice as many hours of on-demand as any cable and satellite provider.”
— Microsoft is building interactive apps for CNN, Showtime and Turner.
— Zune: Bach says it’s clear that Zune has become the alternative to iPod. Now Bach and an assistant are demonstrating Zune Social and how the personal Zune card works.
— They’ve switched to a Ford car that’s been driven on to the stage, showing off the way Sync works with Zune.
— Bach on Windows Mobile: Phones are going to be a big platform. Windows Mobile today outsells iPhone, outsells Blackberry. One of the huge growth areas is going to be voice-activated mobile search. Now time for a demo of Tellme, matching movie search with GPS.
— Bach argues that Microsoft is in the best position when it comes to connected entertainment.
— Gates comes back on to show off some future-ish services. He’s demoing mobile software that can connect images to information without action by the user. See an image of Bach, for instance, and get a reminder that he owes Gates $20. (A look at The Venetian says Steve Ballmer is playing nickel slots.) Now they’re going to play Guitar Hero 3. Bach is slipping in a ringer — the Guitar Hero queen. Gates has his own ringer — Slash.
As the last vestige of the crowd files out, this keynote was about legacy, about connecting the dots between everything the Gates-led Microsoft has accomplished or is working on and how that lays the foundation for the post-Gates future. It’s Bill’s world — with or without him running the show.