Menacing Big Bird steals the spotlight at bizarre Qualcomm CES opening

Sadly, we’re not at CES this year. If we were, we’d have seen Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs talk through some boast-worthy figures about mobile chips before oddity after oddity swamped the show and turned the keynote into an exceedingly strange exercise in raising the bar for surreal conference openings.   

For starters, a trio of actors dressed as two CBBC presenters and one city worker enthusiastically danced around the stage and told the audience that the key to ‘pwning’ half the world, running conferences, and being popular is mobile phones. The three hopped about, bellowed cringe-worthy cliches, and effectively demonstrated the dangers of taking too much non-prescription Adderall, the whole while making the two teen texters from the London Olympics look like the finest choreography of the Royal Ballet.

Later, they, Jacobs, and surprise guest Steve Ballmer were upstaged by a familiar but somewhat off-kilter and disturbing appearance from Sesame Street’s avian nineties superstar, Big Bird.

Big Bird commanded a sinister presence, lumbering, hunched, over a half-man, half-bird subordinate, directing him with a menacing, pointed claw. The employee tried his best not to drown in his own fear-sweat as he searched for the word ‘milk’ in front of a crowd of bemused technology pundits, but Big Bird continued to pressure him and laugh sporadically as the ‘bird-keteer’ fumbled with his ‘word-o-scope’. 

Big Bird occasionally waited for applause in between giggles that sounded like the death rattle of a helium balloon. When asked how the feathered philanthropist put together the demo software, Big Bird conceded he never learned to code but instead outsourced it to ‘owls’ – a chilling nod to the emerging leitmotif of third world sweatshop-coders churning out packaged software and services for the west, paid in peanuts, so an iPad-equipped brat can learn to spell cereal on a Sesame Street branded iPad app instead of with a book.

Actress Alice Eve then made an appearance, and it looked like she didn’t know quite how to react to Jacobs. Despite her best attempts to kick start some banter, Jacobs, eyes darting around the room, instead urged her to speak more about the upcoming Star Trek movie. After it clicked for Eve that any plausibly faked on-stage chemistry was not going to happen, she read from the auto-cue like a pro until it was time to go. And a Rolls Royce rolled across the platform. 

According to The Verge, Maroon 5 closed the keynote, except for viewers watching the live stream who were instead treated to an over-dub of a Dido-lite. Jacobs stood stage left for the duration.

What is quite bizarre is Qualcomm’s organising committee putting together a Cirque du Soleil of surprise guests, violent film snippets, iconic childhood TV presenters and celeb interviews rather than focusing entirely on the position the company has found itself in. Solidly entrenched in the mobile landscape, Qualcomm is involved in all sorts of interesting projects, but sadly, the little content there was fell victim to questionably vivacious showboating. Perhaps the entire show was a self-aware exercise in irony, being as it was, the opening to the most preposterous trade show in the USA’s most preposterous location of Lost Wages. Or, it could have been a masterstroke in creating an unforgettable experience, manipulating the bemused masses into talking about a company that, except among techies, is not exactly a household name – yet.

Either way. The Verge’s ‘supercut’ needs to be seen to be believed, while the rest of the keynote can be viewed, thanks to CNET, can be viewed below as well. The Verge also has a collection of pictures and tweets which are well worth a look.