Against Stunning Backdrop, CE Week Comes to Town

The entrance to the Jacob Javits center in midtown New York City, NY, site of CE Week

CE Week, a production of the folks from CT Labs (publishers of Dealerscope, Technology Integrator, Connected Design), launched their latest iteration of of the event last week again at the Jacob Javits Center in midtown Manhattan. The gods were smiling on the promoters…granting them stunningly beautiful weather that was brightly sunshiny, with deep blue skies, and insanely comfortable temps in the mid-70s. What a dramatic contrast from the normal mid-June heat, humidity, and rain that is much more typical.

The weather was dramatic, but was CE Week?

As longtime readers of Strata-gee know, I have often struggled to define this show over the years – it’s a quirky little show. My business partner laughs at me every year when I say this is my last CE Week…only to watch me undo that pledge the following year yet again. I’m conflicted on this event…I want it to work and sometimes it does. But often…it doesn’t.

CT Labs describes CE Week as:

“CE Week is the epicenter for innovation, emerging trends and insights, AND building connections in the North American technology space. It’s an event for those seeking powerful partnerships to illuminate the path towards high growth in the ever evolving consumer technology industry.

In cooperation with IFA, the world’s largest technology trade show, CE Week is the premier platform for conducting business in the North American technology marketplace, connecting key decision makers through matchmaking, high quality content, and networking

Taking place at the Jacob K. Javits Center, we’re bringing together key segments of the industry – from retailers, distributors, and innovators, to powerful media.”

From CE Week website at
Inside the doors to the main entrance (south end of building) of the Javits Center – to the left of me is a lineup for a popular Starbucks coffee shop. Note the young lady in teal shirt to the right who is approaching me, somewhat concerned about the guy who walked through the main doors and started snapping pictures. This is left over trauma from 9/11 where facilities now are worried about pre-attack surveillance. Behind me to my left was a group of police officers, sure to be summoned depending on my answers to her questions. You can see the entrance to CE Week in the upper right of this photo.

Should CE Week be Renamed?

I don’t know…maybe they should rename it to CE Days. In the past, promoters have fielded multiple events taking place during the week, loosely combining them under the CE Week brand umbrella. But this year, the event consisted of just the two days of the show. I am told there were some other offsite events arranged for special groups of attendees by certain event sponsors. However, my invitation must have gotten lost in the mail so I can’t tell you about those private events.

Another view of the main foyer to the Javits Center where CE Week is held
Here I am looking to my right (you can see the doors I entered through at the right edge of the photo. Center/left in this photo is the check-in to the much larger Medical Design & Manufacturing Show which took up most of the Javits Center. It is fairly quiet, but that event actually opened the day before, so most of their attendees have already checked-in.

I have a love/hate relationship with CE Week. On the one hand, it makes sense that some type of event take place in New York City, which has seen its tech industry blossom over the last 5 years or so to become a major contributor to the local economy (let alone to national technology innovation). It has truly become a center of innovation and competes with other such geographic centers around the US and the world.

Main entrance to CE Week, on the fourth level of the Jacob Javits Center
Here is the main entrance. Considering it was just fifteen minutes after the event opened, I was expecting to see more people. But a larger group showed up later in the day. Look closely in the center of the photo and you’ll see the Connected Design booth which was set up as a mini-Smart Home with displays of the latest tech for the various areas of the home. It was one of the highlights of the event.

So How was the Attendance?

New York City also remains the largest media center for our industry – and for all industries for that matter. And although the media industry is but a shadow of its former self, this is still the center of that universe. If you want to bring innovators together with media, NYC makes perfect sense. Yet it seems this event struggles sometimes to do just that.

CE Week just minutes after opening on Day 1. Attendance was sparse at this point
This image was taken just inside the entrance to the hall about 15 minutes after CE Week opened on Day 1. When you enter, there are two main aisles, one on the left and one on the right. This is the one on the right, which is the path most take upon entering.

As this is being written, the organizers have yet to release the attendance figures for CE Week 2019 – but to my eyes attendance appeared to be down compared to last year. I arrived on Day 1 at fifteen minutes after the appointed opening hour of 9:00AM, and mostly I saw booths – some still in varying stages of being set up – with only booth personnel. But other than maybe just a handful of journalists, I didn’t see much in the way of other attendees. I took some photos so you can decide for yourself, but it looked pretty quiet at the show opening to my eyes.

CE Week shortly after opening on Day 1. It was quiet
At this point, I have walked down that right aisle to the back of the hall and turned around looking back towards the entrance. Mostly, I’m seeing booth personnel.

Conferences Offered Insights, But No ‘Breaking News’

A couple of hours later, attendance had clearly picked up, with some booths showing signs of being fairly busy. Although I didn’t see any booth overcrowded, except for one that surprised me – the Dancakes Pancake Art Kit booth was fairly consistently busy. We’ll delve into this phenomenon later, but suffice it to say, Dancakes mixes the opportunity to tap into your creative skills and rewards you with the edible results of your “art.”

CE Week had a full schedule of conferences and panels, like this one on 5G technology
This keynote conference on the impact of 5G technology on retail was fairly well attended. Some of the other conferences and panels exhibited thinner attendance.

I did take a few moments to listen in on a couple of their scheduled conferences – one on how 5G technology will impact retail and another on how mobility is the gateway to innovation. These conferences, or panels really, had some very qualified experts and some great points were made.

CE Week panel on 5G offered some interesting insights
The CE Week panels I heard offered some interesting insights from expert participants. But I did not personally hear any exciting breaking news. We’re they expecting someone else (note the empty chair on the right)?

However, I didn’t personally hear any major news being made or learned of any dramatic descriptions of breakthroughs. Some of these panels were thinly attended, while others seemed to draw a pretty good audience.

A Gadget Show for Retailers

When I’m pressed, I sometimes describe CE Week as a gadget show for retailers. There is a lot of truth to that view, and I think it is one of the reasons why I’m so conflicted about attending.

At CE Week attendance picked up later
Attendance seemed to pick up a little later in the event with many booths getting more active, but few were mobbed.

Strata-gee’s “beat” (areas of focus for coverage), includes specialty audio/video, custom installation & integration, and general consumer electronics (CE). CE Week really only scratches that last itch…CE…and that is but a third of my coverage. Truth be told, it is probably less than a third, as I am less interested in the cheap Bluetooth speakers, inexpensive soundbars, and other such products that tend to dominate CE these days.

The Dancakes booth at CE Week
See that crowd center/right of this picture? One of the most consistently busy booths was the Dancakes booth. Dancakes offers a Pancake Art Kit that turns pancakes into art. Was the crowd for the art? Or was that crowd for the free pancakes? I can’t say for sure, but the participants who volunteered to try it seemed genuinely proud of their artwork/pancakes.

Connecting CE Retailers with CE Manufacturers

CE Week tries to bring together those retail CE buyers and CE sellers. Hence, you tend to get a lot of Bluetooth speakers; earbuds in a rainbow of colors; cellphone cases of every size, shape, and color; tech-enabled toys; and the like.

With that being the case, why do I tend to go every year? Either I’m a glutton for punishment (very possible)…or I have discovered some interesting new technologies or companies. I can assure you it is the latter rather than the former. It is this promise of something new and exciting that keeps me coming back.

CE Week's video shootout
One popular event at CE Week is the video shootout between multiple TV products. From where I’m standing, after calibration they all look pretty much alike. But testing gear and the judges determine the winner.

Of course, my attendance is facilitated by the fact that I live in the NY Metro market. This makes it crazy easy for me to attend. It is easily one of the most cost-effective events I attend. But still, my time is worth something…a lot in my mind. And I can’t afford to waste days on end visiting events of no consequence.

Plott - an interesting laser/digital measuring device at CE Week
Plott is an augmented reality startup that offers Cubit, a device that facilitates accurate measurement in two simultaneous planes for quick and easy installations

So what did I find at this year’s CE Week? A few interesting (if not earthshaking) things:

  • More specialty AV & CI-oriented products: I was pleased to see some more custom installation and integration-oriented brands displayed this year. High-end speaker brand Focal was there with a selection of their unique speaker designs, including an interesting looking in-wall model. Acoustic Innovations was double represented, both with a booth on the show floor, and a section of the Connected Design quasi-Smart Home display.
  • Plott: Related to the above point, I discovered Plott, a brand new brand that I believe will become a factor – perhaps a significant one – in the CI space as well…although they are not there now. Watch for my story on Plott, a startup company offering cool looking digital/laser/app-connected measuring tools – first for the DIY consumer crowd…then for the pro market.
  • Lot’s of smart security related options
  • Kangaroo – a potentially disruptive low priced security solution for any home.
  • Lot’s of apps offering safe internet access for children
  • Sony, LG, Vizio, and Westinghouse TV brands were all there, but only Westinghouse had a booth. Vizio was in the Connected Design booth, and the other brands were in the video shootout the show runs every year.
  • Continued expansion of Smart Home products, including a Smart Safe from Motorola
  • Upgraded user interfaces, including one from a CAAVO digital universal remote provider

Watch for more posts on Strata-gee with more details of some of these notable showings at CE Week.

About Ted

A sales and marketing specialist - primarily in the technology industry - I've experienced a sort of "circle of life" in business. I've been a mass merchant retailer, a specialty retailer, a specialty manufacturer, a large volume manufacturer, a distributor, and even represented sales representatives. Now the owner of a marketing company that works with a variety of businesses on improving their strategic marketing and business development - I analyze issues from all angles to develop holistic solutions.

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