Well friends, it’s time to start looking into the crystal ball to figure out what those CES folks are going to do this year. This year’s CES was held online — sorta. As you may recall from my coverage, the event was about as minimal as you can get. I thought it was a disappointing and embarrassing showing from the world’s leading tech expo.
Before talking about the 2022 show, let’s dive in a little bit into what made the 2021 show so non-special.
CES 2021’s failure wasn’t just about COVID
CES, once the most influential tech event in the world, never really recovered from the Great Recession. It’s pretty obvious when you look at it now. I started going to the show in 2006, and I saw firsthand the nosedive it took in 2009-2011. Things got better with the show in 2012-2015, but there was a lack of focus. For most of the ’10s the show kept diversifying into different new areas. Some paid off. Some didn’t.
By 2020, attendance was down. It wasn’t just because they artificially limited the kind of people who could attend for free, although they did. Honestly, the show lacked the kind of interesting stuff that makes people go to it. It had gotten so spread out that you could spend more time going between locations than you did at the locations.
2021 was going to change all that. Las Vegas was building a giant new hall that would let the entire show be under one (admittedly huge) roof. The ’21 show would have a sense of cohesion that other shows didn’t.
And then, well, you know.
Will ’22 be a “take 2” or a “strike 2?”
Right now, it’s really hard to know. In a fairly telling move, the show’s organizers haven’t even started taking registrations yet. They’re calling the show an “in person and virtual event.” This is just hedging their bets because they just don’t know what the show will be like.
As I write this, things in Clark County, Nevada (Las Vegas area) are not looking good COVID-wise. The county is a hotspot with case numbers shooting up to levels not seen since the winter. And yet, I personally doubt that anything there will be shut down. 2020 and 2021 were crippling years for the area’s economy, with tourism at all time lows.
We know a lot more about our shared health concerns than we did a year ago, and I’m willing to bet that Las Vegas, and the convention center that houses CES, will stay open for business. There may be some restrictions and adaptations, but I doubt that they will close down like they did in 2020.
But will people show up?
The real question is whether or not anyone will actually show up on the show floor this year. Certainly, if they hold a show, then the diehards will come. But will attendance be enough to get the sort of excitement that the show needs? It’s hard to tell.
Some of that will depend, of course, on travel restrictions. Throughout most of 2020 and into 2021, there were restrictions on travel into and out of the US. CES is an international event, and if those travel restrictions come back, as many as one-third of the exhibitors and attendees might be unable to come.
As for the rest, though… I think that it’s really going to depend on the state of the country’s health in January. The latest projections suggest that things will get worse than they are now, but it’s hard to know how much worse. If the pandemic continues to worry us, a lot of folks won’t show up no matter how safe it seems.
The path forward
As I write this, the folks at CES haven’t opened up registration yet. That’s pretty surprising for this time of year, but I understand that there’s a lot of uncertainty. No doubt they’re encouraging exhibitors to start building their online listings. Unfortunately, I doubt there’s going to be any attempt to improve upon the 2021 online experience. It was flat-out embarrassing for a group like CES to have a MySpace-like online experience. And, I don’t think it’s going to get better.
Every year for the last couple of years, I’ve asked if this will be the “last CES.” And this year more than others, I’m really curious. The world doesn’t need a massive tech expo in order to roll out new products. CES just isn’t where innovation happens, no matter what their marketing material says.
If the show is able to bounce back this year, and if people feel safe attending again, there might just be hope for the old girl. But if attendance is sharply down, this may just be the last time anyone really talks about CES as a major event. It might just join COMDEX, CEDIA, and other shows as something people “used to do.”