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CES Turns 50

The World in June 1967: CES occurred just as the "Summer of Love" began amid anti-war protests, civil rights marches, and the sex, drugs and rock n' roll counter-culture revolution — a world in which adults knew something was happening but didn't know what it was. The baby boom generation was just becoming an economic as well as a cultural force, “Bonanza” was the top-rated TV show, “The Dirty Dozen” was the big hit at the box office, and "Groovin'" by the Young Rascals was the nation's top song. In the three weeks before CES opened, The Beatles' landmark “Sgt. Pepper” album was released, the Israel-Arab Six-Day War began and ended, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized interracial marriage in Loving v. Virginia, and the Monterey Pop Festival had occurred. Median annual U.S. income was $7,300, a new house cost $14,250, the average new car cost $2,750, gas was 33 cents a gallon, and a movie ticket was $1.25.

CES 1967 Registration: In 1967, what would become CTA was then the Consumer Products Division, just one sector within the sprawling Electronics Industries Association (EIA). With no industry-sponsored event, most CE vendors exhibited at a number of other, largely inappropriate, trade shows, primarily the Music Show sponsored by the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM). In mid-1966, CPD staff VP Jack Wayman convinced the EIA board of the need for a specialty "consumer electronics show" to shine a brighter light on the industry.

CES 1967 Ribbon Cutting: The first CES took place at four Manhattan hotels, primarily the Midtown Hilton on Sixth Avenue and the Americana (now the Sheraton) around the block on Seventh Avenue, with spillover at the Warwick and City Square hotels. Participating in the ribbon cutting were Jack Wayman (third from the left, in the white turtleneck) and Federal Trade Commission Chair Paul Rand Dixon (center, with the scissors).

Attendance: An estimated 17,500 manufacturers, distributors and retailers browsed 117 exhibits occupying 150,000 square feet over the four New York hotel locations, viewing 10,000 products ranging "from $8 radios the size of a pack of cigarettes to $15,000 room-length stereophonic units," according to The New York Times. As today, there were not only exhibits but industry seminars, including one on the growing importance of the 15-24-year-old Youth Market.

CES Product Mix: In 1967, the CE business consisted primarily of five product categories: TV, phonograph, radio, all packaged in a variety of integrated credenza cabinets, standalone consoles, tabletop and portable variations; hi-fi "separates" components (a niche, still developing business); and, a new category — audio tape cartridges and cassettes. Most new consumer electronics products by 1967 were marketed as "solid state" — i.e. transistorized — rather than powered by increasingly archaic vacuum tubes.

Color TV: For the first time, all three national TV networks broadcast their entire prime time lineups in color. Led by the world's leading TV vendor, RCA, most of the major TV vendors slashed prices on their color sets 5-10 percent, which helped color sets outsell monochrome nearly 4-1 in 1967. "Big screen" solid-state console color TVs in 1967 measured up to 23 inches diagonally, and cost between $500-$900 – around $3,600-$6,600 today.

Japanese TV Makers: Several Japanese suppliers, including Sony, Sharp, Toshiba, Hitachi, Pioneer and Panasonic, took prominent positions at the first CES. All had recently or were in the process of establishing their initial U.S. subsidiaries, and many introduced their own color TV models in the U.S. market for the first time in 1967 to challenge established market leaders RCA, Zenith and Admiral.

Portable Color TV: Affordable color "portable" models, both AC and battery-powered with screens from 4-14 inches and weighing as much as 45 pounds, priced from $199-$329 ($1,500-$2,400 in 2017 dollars), also were shown for the first time at CES. There also were boxy black-and-white portables with CRT screens as small as 1 inch and selling for less than $100.

First Format War: By 1967, nearly all major automakers offered factory-installed 8-track tape decks as an option. But in mid-1966, two other tape formats arrived to challenge 8-track, aka Stereo 8 "CARtridge." One was PlayTape, a 1/8-inch loop cartridge format from MGM that could hold up to 24 minutes of sound and came in five different-colored versions, depending on the content. The Blue label indicated children's content, so the blue label on this truncated version of “Sgt. Pepper” was indicative of how the conservative CE business viewed rock n' roll in 1967. Most of the hi-fi audition music at CES 1967 was either classical or jazz.

Compact Cassette: The second new tape format was Philips' compact cassette, marketed in the U.S. under the Dutch company's Norelco brand. In all, 43 of the 117 exhibitors at CES displayed tape products; by the end of the year, audio tape gear outsold record players nearly two-to-one. Unlike 8-track and PlayTape, users could record on compact cassette, which helped it win the tape format war, birthing a whole new home taping ecosystem and culture, and established consumers' home recording rights that were finally granted legally by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1984 Betamax decision.

50 Years of "Whoa!": CES stayed in New York for the next three years, moved to Chicago in 1971 (ending in 1994), and added the winter Las Vegas CES in 1978. And each year, CES has grown in size and influence. A record 170,000-plus attended this past January's 50th anniversary show in Las Vegas, including 60,000 international visitors, browsing a record 4,015 booths covering 2.6 million square feet in multiple locations around the city. More importantly, for the last half century CES has been the most important showcase and breeding ground for every new innovation, entrepreneur and, as CTA noted at this year's 50th anniversary show, pure and unadulterated "whoa!"

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