The news — and the headlines — emanating from Vegas over the past two weeks have most certainly caught the attention of a weary, and wary, public.
Yes, Amazon, Google and Microsoft have pulled out of CES. Same with Meta/Facebook, AT&T, Lenovo, Procter & Gamble and others.
Yet despite this apparent exodus from the world’s largest and most prestigious showcase of innovation and technology, CES 2022 is very much alive, thriving and ready to roar into action.
“While it’s true that some large companies have pulled out, CES is critical for those small entrepreneurs who are investing a lot of money — in many instances their own money — in their dreams and visions,” said Karen Chupka, executive vice president of the Arlington-based Consumer Technology Association (CTA), which produces CES.
“They’re investing a lot into their belief of what they’re doing; so it’s critically important for them to come here and meet people from all around the world,” she said. “As a smaller company, it is hard to scale up. … CES provides that truly unique opportunity where everybody can come together and look for their next business partners, their next investors or even how to improve upon their ideas.”
One of the things that makes CES important, Chupka said, is how it brings together not only large brands, but also small companies with serious potential.
“Even this year, we have companies that started in Eureka Park that are now large companies or, at the very least, bigger companies,” she said, “and that’s why we think it was important this year for us to continue to bring that spirit together.”
While withdrawing from CES is certainly not an optimal scenario for the name-brand players of consumer tech, the truth is that such companies can typically afford to “absorb the hit” while drawing upon their size, scale and influence to still tell their stories to the media and the public.
After all, while CES provides the ideal forum through which to unveil new concepts and introduce innovation, when these companies truly want to disseminate their news — even if they aren’t attending — people will listen. Jabra already announced the launch of its picture-perfect Elite 4 running earbuds. Samsung previously unveiled its full line of 2022 QLED TVs. And Alienware already premiered its Concept Nyx, which streams games to multiple screens simultaneously.
But for those that made the difficult decision to withdraw, the optics associated with a potential continued presence have most certainly played a role.
“As the health and safety of our customers, partners, employees and guests are our highest priority, in view of the current situation in connection with the COVID-19 virus, we’ve therefore decided to cancel Mercedes-Benz AG’s participation in CES 2022,” writes a spokesperson for the German auto manufacturer.
Similar statements from other companies have flowed freely through cyberspace. But for smaller companies — which have already committed time, personnel and financial resources into their CES investment — withdrawing is simply not an option.
“There was simply no way we could justify not attending CES,” said Adam Roush, the co-founder and chief design officer of Chessup, a Lenexa, Kansas-based startup that created a smart connected chessboard with a built-in chess instructor.
“We’ve been working on this concept for two years. Over the past two months, we’ve worked like crazy, fixing a few bugs, and got it to the point where we realized that this isn’t just a prototype, it’s actually a functional product that’s genuinely fun to play. It’s hard not to want to shout that from the rooftops. So all the conditions this year aside, it’s worth the risk for us because we’re really excited to share what we built.”
For French company Veritise, participation during a pandemic actually provided a sense of justification for its involvement.
“We can use blockchain to render actual human verification,” said company spokesman John Sypniewski.
“In the case of COVID, many countries use QR codes to verify people’s vaccination status. The problem with QR codes is that people who aren’t vaccinated can swap QR codes with others. Through Veritise, we actually verify that the QR code is authentic with that particular person to prevent any sort of fraudulent use of the COVID vaccine.”
Veritise, of course, is more the exception than the rule. Fully cognizant of international concern relative to the pandemic, CES has done everything feasible to ensure a safe and secure show while still delivering the impact for which the event has grown to become known.
With its first return to live status since January 2020, CES will have a different look and feel. Attendees across the board will be around 40% of normal. Aisles will be wider, direction flows will be designated, masks will be required, and the show will close one day earlier than originally planned. Plus, all attendees are required to show proof of vaccination and will be provided access to complimentary COVID test kits.
And for 2022, CES will continue to draw upon the very technology that fuels the industry the show represents.
Integrating elements from its fully virtual show last year, CES 2022 will exist as a hybrid event. All exhibitors have received what’s known as their own exclusive “Digital Activation,” which allows for online interaction among exhibitors, attendees, analysts, investors, partners and the media.
For the city of Las Vegas, hosting this week’s event is something of a double-edged sword.
“We respect that it’s a personal decision to travel or attend events in person; however, CTA has done a terrific job of implementing additional layers of health and safety measures ensuring CES will be a fully vaccinated show and providing complimentary COVID testing kits for their exhibitors and attendees,” said Lori Nelson-Kraft, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority’s senior vice president of communications.
“We appreciate how proactive CTA has been to provide the safest and healthiest environment for its attendees and exhibitors.”
After 53 years of in-person shows and one year delivered fully online, we’re about to see how this 55th edition of CES is set to unfold. Will it be a one-year blip or are we truly seeing a snapshot for the future?
We’ll know that answer in four days’ time.
Steve Winter and Kenny Fried are WTOP contributors who work for Brotman|Winter|Fried, a division of Sage Communications.