Massive Crowds Jam Vegas For CES


Ignoring lackluster holiday sales and a sluggish economy, 116,687 attendees flocked to International CES, here, topping 2002's 99,438 attendance. The show featured more exhibitors and floor space than ever before, according to its producer the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA).

While the amount of attendees was surprising to many, it wasn't to CEA president/CEO Gary Shapiro, who predicted as much in his opening morning remarks: "[CES] is almost certain to be 2003's largest annual trade show of any type in America." The event featured more than 2,283 exhibitors, in 1.25 million net square feet of space, and attracted international visitors from 128 countries, making CES "the World Cup of Technology," according to Shapiro.

Manufacturers and retailers who TWICE spoke with during CES were generally relieved that 2002 was over and that the new year has the potential to be a good one on the business side. CES attendees took the long view and acknowledged the promise and excitement of such categories as HDTV and new types of video displays, recordable DVD decks and camcorders, home networking, mobile electronics, broadband, wireless technologies, digital imaging and a myriad of other products.

And the show drew top names in technology and government, from perennial CES eve keynoter, Microsoft's founder Bill Gates (see p. 4) and first time show keynoter Sony Corp. president Kunitake Ando (see p. 4), among several top execs who spoke at the show, to FCC Chairman Michael Powell. He topped a list of more than 100 government officials who attended CES to discuss such issues as copyright, spectrum management and broadband policy.

Despite the nation's economic recession, Shapiro said, industry factory sales last year were up an estimated 3.7 percent to a record $96 billion last year, and is forecast to approach the $100 billion mark in 2003.

The ongoing growth, Shapiro said, is being driven in part by three major technological areas: wireless, connectivity and digital. Wireless, he stated, accounts for nearly $9 billion in hardware sales. While some feel wireless has hit a plateau, "I believe this sector will grown in fits and starts as more people rely on it for many uses beyond voice transmission," Shapiro said.

The growing trend toward connectivity, was spotlighted "at the CES TechHome Pavilion," featuring CEA's Tech Home Rating System, which allows buyers and sellers to rate a home's technical capabilities, Shapiro said.

The current area where digital "may be having the most immediate and decisive impact," is video, Shapiro said, adding "we sold over 2.5 million" HDTV units last year, well up from the projection of 2.1 million."

The show also marked a milestone. Kathy Gornik, president of Thiel Audio Products, is both the first audio industry representative, and the first woman, to chair the CEA. She was at CES in the dual role of association head and as an exhibitor of more than 20 years.

Thiel, she said, was still a start-up speaker company in 1977, when it first exhibited at CES. The show brought "the consumer electronics industry to our door," and launched the company on the road to success. Though the expense of exhibiting at that show meant sacrifices in other areas, she said, "I consider the CES to be the best dollars we have ever spent to promote the company and its products."

While CES is the CEA's most visible industry support activity, Gornik said, "the truth is CEA works 365 days a year to meet this mission," and just this year is launching two new initiatives. "I am very excited to announce that last month CEA's Executive Board approved the formation of a Small Business Council. The council will provide programming and involve senior industry executives in a mentoring role to teach the skills needed by the successful entrepreneur." The programming will be delivered "via Webcasts, teleconferences, an area on the CEA Web site to include an 'Idea Bank' and, possibly dedicated events."


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