Nancy Klosek Editor In Chief
Digital CES’s Success – and What It Means
When the reality that COVID-19 and the havoc it was wreaking to lives, families, and livelihoods started sinking in around the end of last February, it became increasingly clear to the management personnel of trade shows of all sizes and stripes in the consumer technology arena that some fast thinking was in order. However, fast thinking, it turned out, couldn’t outrun the rapidly morphing circumstances affecting the rules of safe congregation and air travel. Those kept changing by the week, the day and the minute.
Count the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), producer of the annual January International CES, as having been fortunate enough to start some ultra-early research into transitional moves relating to the “virtualization” of the January 2021 CES.
“We began in February and March look at digital, looked at every off-the-shelf package, and decided we had to do something special,” said Gary Shapiro, CTA president and CEO, in June, when the new format was unveiled. He added that the goal was to preserve “the serendipity, the joy of learning” that characterizes the traditional face-to-face CES. So CTA pulled the trigger in July, deciding to forego hopes of doing a physical show, “letting us focus on making this happen.” Having just experienced the result – achieved with the partnership of Microsoft, the engine whose software infrastructure powered the show’s events and pacing, we have to tip our hat to a challenge that was well met.
No, it wasn’t Vegas. There was no elbow-rubbing at receptions, and none of the annual “catching-up-with” schmoozing that characterizes the considerable social aspects of a typical CES.
What it did have going for it was a relatively seamless platform by which business-doers and vendors could connect. And that is saying a lot. As for next year, the world will move forward with the hope that 2022 will see the end of this horrific pandemic.
However, COVID-19 and the ruptures in the fabric of people’s lives have also inalterably “changed the pace and arc” of technology, he pointed out – and would also have its affect on future CESes. With a new Convention Center building added to help welcome back CES visitors in the flesh in 2022, should that be possible, Shapiro stated, “Vegas is ready for us.”
That said, Shapiro added that the 2022 CES would likely shape up as both “a physical event and a hybrid event, both digital and physical,” combining elements of “hugs and handshakes – and masks.” And that is the stuff you still can’t do yet over a computer screen.