CES Wrap-Up #1 – The Big News at CES Was That There was No Big News

2012cesreport<January 18, 2012> When my kids were younger, they used to really love those Magic Eye puzzles. You know, the puzzles that look busy with lots of bright designs and graphics, but a hidden image is buried within them if you put your nose on the page, defocus your eyes, and really concentrate? This could be a pretty good analog of this year’s recently completed CES. How so, you ask?


Look, anyone at CES was pretty much taken aback by the size of the crowd. Definitely harkening back to the “good ole days” of the event, there were hoards of people throughout the hallways, long taxi lines, difficult restaurant reservations, and more.

CEA celebrating…
The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) is loudly crowing its success with virtually daily press releases announcing some new record like floor space sold, number of attendees, numbers of booths, etc. In view of their recent embarrassment with Microsoft announcing its withdrawal from the 2013 event – CEA is sparing no expense to promote their results.


As the economy tanked in 2009, trade shows, including CES took it on the chin. Since then, the CEA has worked hard to rebuild the show’s attendance. The numbers from this year seem to suggest that they’ve been successful.

  • 1.861 million net square feet of exhibit space sold, the most ever in the show’s 44-year history
  • A record 3,100 exhibitors
  • 153,000 attendees (including 34,000 International attendees), another record
  • 20,000 new product launches

Look closer…
But look a little closer, can you see the hidden image? Here are some clues. From a CEA press release:

People from “business, government, entertainment, automotive, consumer electronics and every major industry” came together at CES.

See it yet? Squint a little harder. Here’s another clue…

“95,000 square feet of exhibit space” for 2013 have already been sold and “Mazda and BMW have committed to 2013 CES exhibit space along with Ford, Kia, Audi and Hyundai…” These were the only brands mentioned in the release about next year’s event.

How about now? Concentrate.

I kept walking around the show experiencing “Where’s the beef” moments. Oh yeah, I saw the huge car booths. And I have to admit, there were some ginormous appliance displays…some of which were pretty busy.

A bizarre bazaar…
And just when I was trying to put my finger on it, an attendee I was chatting with came out and said it, “This is more like a Middle Eastern bazaar than a consumer electronics show!”

He was right. THAT was the hidden image. Whole, huge sections of this show have come to have no meaning for my business…and I suspect for many of yours as well. The CEA has aggressively expanded the show to include virtually every business under the sun. But at CES, my business is not in the market for a new car…or a washing machine…or a digital health meter.

Can more mean less?…
CES, to bring in more bodies, has radically expanded their definition of what constitutes a consumer electronics product. But while this expansion has brought in large crowds, each for their respective sections…the show overall is slowly losing its soul. This fact, coupled with an industry-wide innovation drain, unbelievably high prices for hotel rooms, and equally eye-popping restaurant tabs…and you have a recipe for disaster.

Think I’m over-exaggerating? Well, I can tell you I was at the famous Comdex show in 1999 where they had even better numbers than CES – over 200,000 attendees. I had never seen anything like it…crazy crowds. Four years later…Comdex was dead…completely gone…cancelled.CEScrowd2Panasonic

Comdex redux?…
How was it possible for such a large show like Comdex to completely disappear in just a few short years? Wouldn’t common sense dictate that raw momentum would carry it forward for several years?

Recently, I found an article from 2003 where an executive in charge of (what we now know was the last) Comdex talked about how Comdex had lost its way. [See the full COMDEX article here… ] The comments and analysis are extremely interesting. In the article that appeared on the Cnet website, Eric Faurot, was brutally honest in examining how Comdex blew it.

Comdex2001logoLoss of focus…and relevance…
“We lost focus, and to a great extent, we lost relevance to the community we serve,” Faurot said.

“During the tech boom, Comdex also reflected the prevailing frenzy by becoming everything to everyone… Comdex was happy to comply with the chaos when it instead should have been working to distill the elements most critical to buyers and sellers…”

Playing the numbers game…
“When the name of the game was numbers, Comdex played that game better than anyone else. However…we neglected to notice that the needs of our buyers were changing. As a result, we lost focus, and to a great extend, we lost relevance to the community we serve.”

“During the buildup to the headiest times…customers like IBM, Intel and Dell told us that we needed to provide a more focused event.”

They tried to save it…
Comdex tried to save the event in 2003. How? Well, amongst other things, “…we have eliminated the consumer technologies, the camera companies and the car companies, and we’ve gotten back to basics–to IT buyers’ needs.”

Ah but it was too late, Comdex lost its relevance and it was just too hard to convince attendees to come back. It took decades to build that show up, and only three or four years to tear it down so completely that multiple attempts to revive it have all failed.

CES used to be…
CES used to be the show that set the agenda for the year to follow. Major technologies and products were launched with great fanfare. And I’m not talking about incremental technologies (50-inches last year, 60-inches this year…LED last year OLED this year)…I’m talking about major innovations like VCR, Compact Disc, DVD, HDTV.

Remember how you used to race from booth-to-booth to see each manufacturers take on these huge breakthrough products. And all the while, you knew that these were products that were going to create a whole new category of new sales with existing customers…and draw in new customers for your business as well.

Yeah, I remember those days too…


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