In the weeks before CES, we made a difficult decision. With omicron cases skyrocketing across the country as the holiday season approaches, we canceled our flights and restructured our strategy. It made the last few weeks of the year chaotic, but as long as the show continues to take place the first week of each year, those of us who write material for a living won’t be able to take much time. during the holidays, whatever.
We were certainly not the only outlet to make the decision after looking at the numbers. Engadget, The Verge, PCMag and CNET were among the long list of organizations that determined the risk was simply not worth the reward this year. It was not an easy choice, far from it. We complain a lot about CES – it’s tough, stressful and sometimes bordering on misery – but it has long been a valuable opportunity to see, firsthand, what trends the year will hold.
It’s a fascinating mix of short-term mainstream tech and speculative sci-fi, an opportunity to meet industry leaders and mingle with startups in the Eureka Park melee. There’s a good chance you’ll bring home a cold or the flu, along with a suitcase full of dirty laundry and industry clothes (what my friends in the comic book industry lovingly referred to as ” con crud ‘), but that’s just a consequence of being stuck in a busy convention center in the dead of winter.
Of course, the cost-benefit analysis changes dramatically during a pandemic. To date, there have been 57 million reported cases and 831,000 deaths from the virus in the United States alone. And, of course, just looking at that last figure doesn’t factor in things like the long-lasting impact of COVID on the human body. We also probably haven’t seen the full impact of vacation travel on the total number of cases. In the end, for us, only one decision made sense: We had covered CES remotely and we would do it again.
I don’t blame those who chose to attend (I certainly thought how fascinating it was to document a relatively uncrowded show). As we enter the third year of the pandemic, we have a much better idea of what this virus is and how it is spread than the last time CES was held in person, in January 2020. We now have vaccines and boosters. The show’s governing body, the CTA, has instituted, among other things, warrants and rules on masks. But we were far from being alone in our decision.
In addition to the media withdrawal, a number of large companies have followed suit. The incomplete list includes GM, Google, Lenovo, Intel, T-Mobile, AT&T, Meta, Twitter, Amazon, Microsoft, Peloton, TikTok, Mercedes, BMW, Velodyne, IBM, Proctor & Gamble, OnePlus, and Pinterest. For a few weeks, high-profile dropouts were the main news at CES – almost certainly not the kind of coverage CTA was hoping for / expecting before what was supposed to be the triumphant return of the tech conference.
The organization’s president, Gary Shapiro, wrote a fiery editorial that appeared in the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Christmas Day, under the headline “CES will continue and must continue in Las Vegas.” By “continue,” Shapiro means in person, of course. The executive drew a line in the sand: innovation is necessary for our future and an in-person CES is necessary to foster this innovation. Shapiro dismissed media coverage of the show’s dropouts as “the drumbeat of the press and other critics who only tell the story through the lens of dramatic companies and big names” and after expressed sympathy for those who chose not to attend in person, equated the suggestion to cancel an in-person event to “live in fear”.
A pragmatic argument could have been made that organizations like CTA are important to mainstream tech and a show like CES is necessary for its survival. Instead, the editorial has set the bar incredibly high for an event like CES. People were already wondering, without a doubt, about the importance of the show in the age of virtual conferences, and failure to offer the kind of overwhelming expectations described in such an article only deepens. these questions.
The truth is, technology is mostly iterative. This is doubly the case with an event like CES, where the focus is, at least in theory, on products designed to be marketed. This means that most of what you see each year is a slightly faster processor or a screen with a little better resolution. I have been covering this industry for a long time now, and I can tell you that if you bet on the revolution every year you are setting yourself up for a life of disappointment.
It’s something we’re all inherently aware of that’s obscured by a lot of buzzwords (snap a photo whenever you see the word ‘metaverse’ and see if you walk out of Hall 1) and science presentations- Fantastic fiction like this we’ve seen from Hyundai. As we head into the last day of the show, I spent part of the morning thinking about the last time I saw something for the first time at the show that I would truly call “life changing” . I’ll find something, I’m sure, but right now I’m running out.
Ultimately, concerns that stories of companies not attending the show would overshadow actual CES news were ruled out early on in the show. has not yet started. Outlets that cover CES covered CES – albeit remotely, in many cases. It was a strange experience as someone who has attended many CES in person, but it was something we were prepared for with last year’s all-virtual show.
It was, again, a mixed bag. Fortunately, the online version of the show was less messy than it was last year. Press conferences were much easier to watch on the platform. While actual discovery is always a problem, this is what is ultimately missing when the show moves online. Suddenly the opportunity to stumble upon an interesting startup at Eureka Park turns into another email pitch stuck in my bottomless void of an inbox.
This is a point of agreement I have with CTA – these platformless startups ultimately have the most to lose if we stray completely from in-person events. For this reason, I can certainly sympathize with those who felt the urge to move forward, in person. That and the fact that deposits, hotel fees, and airfare have a bigger impact on a brand new startup’s bottom line than, say, GM or Google.
In the weeks that followed, I received a number of emails from startups telling me that they were also opting out of attending – and among those that still were, messages that they were pushing back. their news. If a product is advertised and no one is there to cover it, is it really new? Many have questioned the usefulness of announcing a product during the busiest week of the year, and this question becomes even more pronounced when no one is present to cover it. I suspect that an immediate result of much of this is that the traditionally dead weeks after CES won’t be so dead this year.
The truth about CES is that it is constantly evolving. It’s not easy to see up close, but take a step back and these macroeconomic trends become evident. Thinking about the biggest news from CES 2012 was an interesting exercise in following these trends. Chief among these was the event’s remoteness of a mobile show and hospitality in things like the automobile, which now comprises a significant part of the show.
In its fine print, CTA notes: “The official name of the global tech event is ‘CES’. Please do not use “Consumer Electronics Show” or “International CES” to refer to the event. Heck, even the move from the Consumer Electronics Association to the Consumer Technology Association was a clear indication that the show was trying to grow beyond its previous parameters. And honestly, it had been a success.
Thirteen years ago (I mentioned I’ve been doing this for a long time, right), I wrote a story called “CES 2009 Suffers 22% Drop in Attendance.” As I noted in this 2012 retrospective, this year’s show was the busiest – growth that will continue over the next several years and peak in 2019.
People have already declared CES dead. In fact, they did a lot. But continuing to develop the show means continuing to evolve – and meeting changing expectations about how a show looks. I missed seeing friends and colleagues this year. I missed walking the halls of Eureka Park and eating at this dark little Italian restaurant across from the convention center where Pia Zadora does shows on Fridays and Saturdays (Vegas is a deeply strange place).
But I also didn’t hate being home in bed at 10 p.m. ET most nights this week. I am also not sure if I can say that the coverage of our site and other sites necessarily suffered from not being at the show in person this year. Like I said, I don’t do CES like the other attendees do. If this pandemic ever ends, I would like to go back someday. But if I don’t find myself staring at iPhone cases in the Mirage on a cold winter day in early January, I can’t say I’ll be so upset about it, either.