For the first time in two years, the Consumer Electronics Show is returning as an in-person event, though the usual madness, live concerts, and sea of people as far as the eye can see may not be as prevalent.
Organizers for the marquee conference, which is being held between January 5 through January 8 in Las Vegas, say more than 15,000 people have registered to attend in-person — down nearly 91 percent from the roughly 180,000 who embarked to Sin City each year prior to the pandemic. The dip in visitors is a direct result of the pandemic, and likely the new Omicron variant that’s sweeping the globe.
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Many — if not all — of the marquee parties held by the major tech platforms will not be present at CES, sources tell The Current. Instead, attendees can expect smaller events or intimate dinners with business partners. One ad executive, who asked not to be named to protect business relationships, said, “We’re hearing from the holding companies and brands that they’re not attending CES like they used to,” adding that these people made the decision months ago, or well before the Omicron variant grabbed headlines around the globe.
“People are growing weary of continued complications from never-ending emerging strains,” Andres Toro, senior VP of integrated strategy at The XD Agency, tells The Current. “And the so-called ‘new normal’ has become an eye roll. I’m not saying we should take the Omicron variant less seriously, but we are all taking the maximum precautions available to us — so it’s time to chin up and move on, otherwise this plague will weigh us down forever.”
Although it’s an industry bellwether, Toro says CES has become perhaps a little too chaotic. “Maybe it was just me, but it seems as if there was a fizzle of excitement around attending CES prior to Covid,” Toro, who is not attending this year, says. “Have jaded marketers and media executives finally grown tired of having to schlep themselves out to one more post-holiday tech frenzy?”
Other industry leaders share a different sentiment. Ali Manning, co-founder and chief operating officer at Chalice AI, tells The Current that “even some of the most introverted executives are dying for some small talk in-person” and that this year’s CES is the perfect event for just that. Attending also means gaining an advantage over rivals, she says.
“We believe sharing physical space with customers and partners provides an edge,” says Manning, who is attending this year’s event. “Immersing ourselves in the industry and seeing what others are doing, thinking and saying will only expand our points of view in a way that just can’t be done inside the four corners of a video chat window.”
Lauren Douglass, senior VP of marketing at Channel Factory, a YouTube brand safety partner, shares Manning’s perspective. She says working from home has become the “happy” new normal for most people, “but there is nothing like the spark of being together, in-person, to make connections and move business conversations forward.”
Alex Marsh, head of digital strategy at Badger & Winters, also won’t be attending CES this year (he says he hopes to be back in 2023), though will be closely following the event virtually for key themes.
“Specifically, we’ll be looking out for consumer applications of Web 3.0 technologies and NFTs, which have become an interesting area as demonstrated by Adidas and Nike's recent moves into the space,” he says. “But we'll also be looking for applications beyond art, such as music, access, and metaverse integrations.”
Marsh tells The Current that CES will be key to understanding how hardware manufacturers are thinking about the space beyond augmented and virtual reality technologies. “Web 3.0 is at an inflection point where exciting consumer applications are finally possible, and early adopters are getting comfortable with the logic of the space,” he says.
That seems to be on par with Toro, The XD Agency exec. “The metaverse has spurred legitimacy for cryptocurrencies — it’s become the de facto currency of choice,” he says. “Couple that with fintech and API products and you have major security concerns. So, I imagine all of that will be in the mix.”
Toro added that NFTs will also likely be a key theme. “They’ve taken a turn toward becoming legit and it’s the new ‘scene to be seen’ of the art world,” he says.
Meanwhile, Douglass, the Channel Factory exec, believes CES will serve as a blueprint for how future tentpole events are executed. “If we can get people together safely — testing, vaccines, security — it can help prove how we can interact in 2022,” she says. “People want to see new tech advancements, interact with them and physically be present on the showroom floor.”