Twenty years ago, CNN billed the CES as 1 million square feet and 1,100 exhibitors that had “moved far beyond its roots in television and hi-fi.”
It was the year that ReplayTV beat TiVo, and the first year I went to the show. Today, with 2019 just weeks away, the colossal show spans 2.5 million square feet and welcomes 4,400 exhibitors. But much more has changed than just the show’s footprint.
Looking back at my two decades of marketing communications, product launches and speeches at CES, here are the three things that have changed the most and the one that remains the same.
Not Your Father’s CES
While CES still boasts the latest in consumer electronics, the product composition and exhibitor list has changed dramatically. The large players like Panasonic, Samsung and Sony are now sharing the spotlight with auto manufacturers, appliance makers, international startups, fitness technology providers and home connectivity solutions to name a few. What was once focused mostly on entertainment like camcorders, televisions and stereos, is now focused on every element of a consumer’s lifestyle.
And as technology becomes even more ubiquitous (if that is even possible), you can expect to see additional players vying for a piece of the CES pie. This has made the show floor more interesting and diverse, but also harder to cover, navigate and often differentiate. It is not just Replay TV vs. Tivo, or Blu-ray vs. HD DVD, but rather multiple new players offering similar solutions and hoping that their brand somehow stands out.
The experience within each booth has become more focused on the end user and less on the glitz of Las Vegas. Back in 1999 — and even the early 2000s — dance routines, trapeze artists and other stunts were often a part of a CES experience. Today, brands understand that they need to showcase the products in real-world applications. Recent show-floor experiences have included celebrity chef cooking demos, hair styling and massage chairs, virtual reality and race course test drives.
In The News
The reach and voice of CES have also changed dramatically. Media buzz from the floor comes not only from the traditional industry press that have weathered the many years of battling for a press conference seat, but from lifestyle influencers, business media and even meteorologists. In addition, reporters who used to leave a press event to file a story are now competing with bloggers and influencers broadcasting and posting live. Getting and managing the “scoop” has become more challenging for some, and an opportunity that brands have embraced.
Be There, Or Be Nowhere
The CES stage has long served as one of the largest product launch platforms of the year, especially with the loss over the past decades of competing shows such as Comdex, PC Expo and more. And while CES’s demise was predicted and often threatened by Apple’s competing MacWorld, the brand has not only survived but thrived. The show is still the place to be seen, and brands are afraid to miss out.
Today, brands often decide to go to CES not because they have a story to tell, but because not being there could be more of a story. In addition, celebrities continue to walk the floor, garner publicity and endorse the next thing in CE. They are more aligned with brands than in the past, but the show remains a place to see and be seen.
This year’s show, with 11 venues spread out throughout Las Vegas, is being billed as the “Global Stage for Innovation.” Holding up to that remains to be seen, but regardless, CES is and will be the place for news stories, networking and business development. And it looks like it, and my annual January trek, are here to stay.