CES 2019 – How Media is Reacting

CES logo w/CTAAs usual, 2019 kicks off in January with CES 2019 as the first event of the year. CES is the largest show in technology, showing a wide array of new technology products both real and unreal. An event that has steadily declined in significance for those of us in custom and commercial integration – in the past, CES illuminated brightly what was to come in tech that year. Now? Not so much…

See more on the hubbub surrounding CES 2019…

Over the last few years I have watched the Consumer Electronics Show slowly evolve from one where the nation’s then-thriving electronics retailers convened to see new products and even cut physical purchase orders to add the new models into their assortments and sales plans. Business meetings could be intense, with purchase commitments, promotions planning, co-operative advertising funds demanded, and resupply commitments secured.

With tech-obsessed Americans dying to learn what’s coming next, there was a veritable media frenzy for this event. I remember clearly the major networks’ morning news/magazine shows (i.e. Good Morning America, the Today Show, etc.) would always have reporters and producers at CES – and they often had live remote studios right on the show floor, with regular rotating bits highlighting interesting new gadgets.

A Gigantic Gadget Orgy

Now, those times are a distant memory as CES has slowly distilled down to a gigantic gadget orgy where tech lovers…many not even in the tech business…collect to bath in, and stare open-mouthed at, fantastical and glitzy displays of robots and futuristic doo-dads…much of which will never make it to market.

LG Electronics (LG) President and CTO Dr. I.P. Park outlined the company’s vision for the future in LG’s CES® 2019 official pre-show keynote, titled AI for an Even Better Life.

This has been the pattern for the last few years, and I expected much of the same for CES 2019. But, despite the fact that this organization has produced this event for years, there were some surprises this year – including a bit of a tech bro faux pas.

The Three Types of Reaction to CES 2019 by Media

The technology enthusiast media have generally done a good job of covering CES, most with reporters there sending in or posting regular updates throughout the show. However, I would say the general media has responded in one of three ways to CES – 1) Ignored it; 2) Covered primarily the controversy (more on this later); or 3) Poked fun at it.

From what I can tell, the major media outlets have, for the most part, ignored the giant tech fair in the desert this year. Today’s New York edition of the New York Times, for example, did not have one single story about CES in it (although the online edition has had a few updates during the show.) I monitored GMA (Good Morning America) and heard no reference to CES…at least during the first hour. In the case of the Today Show, they teased an upcoming story about technology, but it turned out to be a story offering tips on things you can do with your new device (such as a smart speaker) that you may have received as a gift over the holidays – and that you may not be aware of what they can do. There was NO mention of CES on the Today Show (again, at least during the first hour).

Covering Only the Controversy – CES 2019 Innovation Award Revoked

Ose personal massager

The Osé personal massager won an Innovation Award that the CTA retroactively revoked

For some news organizations, their first (and perhaps only) story about CES was centered on the early controversy about the incident that occurred surrounding a rescinded CES 2019 Innovation Awards Honoree in the Robotics and Drone category. That’s right, the organization awarded  the honor…and then took it back.

The product involved was called the Osé “personal massager.” Yes, it is a sex toy produced by a company known as Lora DiCarlo. From an open letter on their website, titled “Gender Bias at CES”:

It was vetted by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA, which owns and produces CES) and then a panel of independent expert judges in robotics scored it highly across all judging criteria; they saw the same marvel of cutting-edge technology that we did. A product that pushes the limits of engineering and design and opens the door to even bigger leaps in innovation, beyond even the sex tech uses.

Denied Award, and Denied the Right to Exhibit at CES

Founder and CEO Lora Haddock went on to say that when they won the award, the team celebrated. She says it took years of research and engineering by her largely female engineering team to develop this product, and the award offered validation of this effort. Then, a month later, CTA took the award back and even refused to allow Lora DiCarlo to exhibit at the show.

You can read the entire letter which spells out the incident – it even names Gary Shapiro, reveals that the CTA has been “cagey” on explaining why they revoked the award, notes that in 2018 CTA allowed an actual sex doll for men to be displayed on the floor, and reveals that there is a VR porn company that displays on the floor at CES every year.

‘Gender Bias, Sexism, Misogyny and Double Standards’

Haddock goes on to pretty effectively call out CTA and CES for “a long, documented history of gender bias, sexism, misogyny and double standards” – noting that only 1 out of 100 CES Best of Innovation award winners are awarded to firms with female owners. She also points out that “Gary Shapiro has even defended the use of scantily clad booth babes while denying that there is a hostile environment for women at CES.”

The company has been quite successful in capitalizing on the incident, getting several news outlets to report on it including the Associated Press, the New York Times, and myriad others. In reality, this controversy has probably garnered them more publicity than they would have received otherwise…buried on a show floor with 4,500 other exhibitors. See more on Lora DiCarlo at: loradicarlo.com.

Kohler smart toilet

That glowing item on the left is the new Kohler smart toilet. It has a smart speakers built in that is Alexa enabled and a heated seat

Oh by the way, it may be a complete coincidence, but yesterday, in the wake of this controversy, the CTA announced it will establish a $10 million fund committed to “venture firms and funds focused on women, people of color and other underrepresented startups and entrepreneurs.” Hmmm…

Is CES a Joke?

Moving on, we also note as our third recognized media reaction, that many outlets have chosen to – perhaps in jest – poke fun at the event. I can’t tell you how many sites, blogs, and outlets I saw that focused on stories about cutting edge “smart tech,” such as the new Kohler smart talking toilet (it has Alexa in it, guffaw, guffaw). Or how about that LavvieBot electronic cat litter box – “A smart place for cats to poop.” (Yes, that is a direct quote of a headline.) And then there’s the Soma app-driven Smart Bra called, logically enough, the Soma Innofit. This bra, they say, apparently aids in obtaining the proper fit.

The Breadbot

Meet the Breadbot, an automated break making machine that can make 10 loaves of bread an hour without human intervention. However, humans need to load the ingredients into the machine to begin with

How about the Breadbot? Yes this commercial sized bakery machine bakes 10 loaves of bread every hour with no human intervention! (Note, however, that humans have to initially load in the ingredients.) Finally, there is the scalp scanner – an electronic device that scans your scalp for help in choosing the proper hair care products. That last one is from new exhibitor Procter & Gamble, a consumer products company – a further product category expansion by CES.

Soma Innofit bra

The Soma Innofit bra aids in determining the proper bra size for any woman

Stories like these serve to reduce CES to the ridiculous. Thank goodness we have the tech enthusiast websites to talk about 8K TVs, VR/AR, and smart home technologies. We have that at least…

Visit CES on the web: www.ces.tech.


CES 2019 – How Media is Reacting — 3 Comments

  1. Ted, CES is about everything tech and innovation, good, bad, and indifferent. You’ve hand-picked a few embarrassing or cringy moments to indict a show of 2 million square feet and 180,000 attendees. The reality is that those who wear their irrelevance to the present day as a badge of pride do so at their peril. CES absolutely is partially about what could be, and that means by definition, what may never be. The CEDIA world is about what once was, and what may never be again. Given that choice, I know what I would pick.

    Fortunately, things aren’t that stark. Both worlds are of value anyone hoping to run a vital and sustainable business in the world of tech.

    • Hi Gary,

      To clarify, this particular post contains my observations surrounding what I’m seeing from media. I didn’t cherrypick those stories, the media did. If you scan the news world landscape, I’m confident you’ll see it too. It gives me no glee to see this reaction. For those who strongly support this event, this reality should be concerning.

      In my mind it is not so much about “CES is bad,” and “CEDIA Expo is good.” Rather it is about the differing personality between the two events and the need for our industry to try and stay relevant to the consumer market.

      As a gadget lover, I too see CES as a fun event. As a business person, I see little correlation between what I see there and the critical business decisions I need to make now.

      Yes, some trend information can be gleaned about what might happen someday…maybe. Self driving cars? Maybe…some day. 8K TVs? I’m sure some day down the road. Robots? Maybe yes, maybe no. AI? Who knows when or how that’ll happen? Smart homes? Yes, but we’ve been talking about that for years now and it is obviously happening.

      Perhaps, as you say, I’m wearing my “irrelevance to the present day as a badge of pride.” But I’m concerned about this show’s declining relevance as measured by the general consumer media’s reaction to it. I find it alarming and a sign.

      Adding cars, appliances, commercial bread making machines, bras, litter boxes, hair care products, etc. may, in the short run, bring more people to the show. But in the long run, CES’ foundational meaning or reason-for-being is potentially being watered down.

      Surely, 180,000 attendees is impressive. But I will never forget that COMDEX I attended years ago with 230,000 attendees. That was even more impressive. Three years later, it was dead.

      You are correct, of course, that we in tech have to always keep our eye on the horizon…for what’s coming. But we also have to survive today to get to that horizon. And the further down the road that horizon is…the less important it is to our efforts to get there.

      From your comment it seems we are closer in agreement than apart. We both want a relevant event. I appreciate your thoughts and respect your position.

      Have a great show!


  2. Perhaps the CES show should be divided into two- Gadgets and stuff and the öld style”AV-related world- splitting the categories might lead to more coverage for those in each and prevent the kind of tsunami of silliness from burying the real world stuff that might actually have relevance in a year, two, three- just a thought

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