A CES 2017 Postmortem
Two years in, I’ve had two very different experiences attending CES, the massive tech tradeshow put on by the Consumer Technology Association. Both were exceptionally overwhelming, but both were exceptionally fun as well.
Year One was much more of a feeling out process than anything. A little more than three months on the job, I was more concerned with meeting people and making the right connections than I was seeing the latest products announcements. Year Two saw a bit more of an equal balance between making connections and seeing cool tech, but anyone who passed by the Dealerscope booth in the Grand Lobby saw just how active we were, shooting dozens of videos over the course of the three days we were all stationed there.
I’ve attended press conferences, walked almost every show floor, attended meetings in dedicated suites, met with clients at their hotels, sat on panels, walked through more booths than I can count, and have seen more celebrities. Despite all of that I still feel like I’ve only scraped the surface of what CES is.
By all accounts, I’m an infant in this industry. But the one thing that separates me from the rest tech media community is that I come from the world of associations. I started my career covering the association industry—which included the production of trade shows. So I understand, to some extent, what goes into putting on a show like CES. It’s with those same association glasses on that I feel empowered to offer some advice to the organization for how they can improve the overall experience of the show for attendees, the press, and exhibitors.
And really, it boils down to three things:
A hard attendance cap. As of right now, there is this theory of an attendance cap that’s in place for CES. This year is was somewhere around 180,000 attendees. It might end up being a little more or little less, but supposedly it’s there. I get that there is definitely a major pride factor involved with being the largest trade show in North America, but the cap—if it’s a real thing—can come down ever so slightly. I’m not talking in half or anything like that. But maybe even just 10,000-15,000 fewer official registrants.
Don’t get me wrong, it’ll still be a nightmare getting around Vegas. You talk to Uber and taxi drivers, they tell you stories about people who show up during the first weeks of January just to be here during CES. (Because who doesn’t love sitting in traffic on The Strip???) But reducing the number of people walking around the show floor by a little bit would help reduce the number of collisions.
Stricter registration guidelines. This should apply to media and general attendees. Too often this year I had people come up to me (with my Media badge) asking where the best party was that night, or where the “official CES concert” was happening. These were people who clearly got through the registration cracks and were looking for a good time rather. They weren’t there to do business or cover the latest announcements.
Restructured press days. This is going to come off as whiney, but it’s not intended to be. As great as the press conferences are during the two media days prior to the official opening of CES, press—in my opinion—find more benefit walking around an exhibitor’s booth getting hands-on access to the product. That’s extremely difficult to do when you’re fighting through crowds.
I get that the exhibitors want their Apple moment where they can play flashy videos with loud music in front of the press. But what use is it to the media when you’re stuck having to sit on the floor hundreds of feet from the stage, and you can’t see the product anyway. If there’s one exhibitor who knows how to hold a press conference at CES, it’s Sony. They invite media to their booth in the LVCC, they give their spiel, and then the media can walk around the booth to get up close with the product.
All of these companies are sending out embargoed press releases that can’t run until the first morning of the show anyway, so it almost seems more ideal for press to have early access to the booth, get their photos, and be “done” with the show floor.
Those areas aside, CES has been an incredible experience as a member of the media, and just as a fan of consumer technology in general. It’s by far the coolest trade show I’ve ever been to, and again, that’s considering the fact that I haven’t even come close to seeing everything there is to see. There’s a reason it’s the largest trade show in this corner of the earth, and it rivals others even on the global stage. CES is a must-attend event. If you want to know what’s happening in the consumer tech space and where it’s going, you need to be in Las Vegas during the first few days in January.
So, cheers to CTA for continuing to run an event that serves as the Super Bowl for the tech industry. Here’s to 50 more years of innovation.