What We Learned About the Future of Expos at CES 2022

Ended soon

For as long as we’ve been in the CE business, mid-January has been a time of happy post-CES exhaustion. You’re grateful for a bit of recuperation and stoked for the opportunities created or cemented at the show. Following 2021’s interruption, CES was in-person again this year and so were we. Despite the challenges caused by Omicron, CES 2022 was not only successful, it was instructive. Any doubts we might have had about the future of live trade expos are history.

Viewer or Doer?

In the weeks leading up to the show, much of the tech media took potshots at CES. From their perspective, the health risk of a live event was foolish, and virtual product intros can be just as good (or better) than live. Consider also that in the age of media cutbacks, many outlets can only send one or two representatives at best, and indeed, many reporters now have to attend the show on their own dime; hardly a trivial (or comfortable) trip to Las Vegas during CES week. For much of the media, a virtual show makes all the sense in the world.

Media has an important role to play at CES, but it’s only one role. Underneath the glitz there’s an industry hard at work – this is a trade event, after all. The reason CES was created 55 years ago was to give industry members an annual gathering to interface with suppliers, peers and competitors, make key business decisions and explore new alliances. Is it possible to do all that virtually? Of course. Is it as effective or efficient? Of course not. We got a tremendous lot accomplished in our few days in Vegas. How many weeks or months would the same productivity have taken via phone, email and Zoom? We’re glad we don’t have to guess.

Quality, Not Quantity

Over the years, CES has grown to become an extremely expansive show, with multiple venues and crowds equivalent two Super Bowls. Thanks to Omicron, attendance was naturally down – though CTA’s announced attendance of 45,000 was hardly something to sneeze at, no pun intended. The end effect for those that did go was something that had gotten a bit lost as the show size has exploded: quality time.

We’ve all been there. We all know what it’s like to raise and lose your voice during a booth meeting because of crowded show floor din and the exhibit down the aisle that’s blasting subwoofers. We know the drag of having to cut off a promising conversation because other attendees are standing behind us waiting to talk to the same person. It was interesting to experience CES in a less-harried way – very old school, in fact. No doubt the Consumer Technology Association will find ways to re-introduce this intimacy as it refines CES going forward.

Live: It’s Just Better

This year’s CES was a challenge for everyone, not least the attendees that made the decision to attend. The CTA took every practical precaution to keep the show as safe as possible, at which point the decision to come became a judgement call. Some exhibitors and attendees made the judgement to cancel, while others donned their masks and took a deep breath. Without minimizing the uncertainty and concerns that surrounded CES, we applaud CTA’s decision to go on with a live show and send a shout out to the dedicated staff and crew that managed to pull off a landmark event under unprecedented circumstances.

For us, the way forward is clear. Virtual is powerful and has its place, but there’s no substitute for the in-person experience for trade expos. Chemistry and engagement aren’t easily replicated online, and even when successful, the situation still begs for a handshake. We’re glad we got to press the flesh at CES 2022 and hope that the worst of the pandemic is finally starting to be behind us. And we look forward to the next live trade expo!

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