CES 2021 Organizers Are Planning A Physical Event, But Who Will Come?

I’ve a sophisticated relationship with the annual commerce present CES, previously often known as the Client Electronics Present. Having attended my first CES almost 30 years in the past, I’m a long-term believer within the worth of the occasion as a media spectacle and networking alternative; my CES experiences led on to the profession I’ve right now. And I’m not simply a median attendee — a decade in the past, I labored immediately with CES’ organizers to create one of many present’s main pavilions, creating a deep respect for the individuals and unbelievable infrastructure behind the sprawling bodily occasion.

The complication: CES has grow to be so exhaustingly large and unwieldy that many attendees now take into account participation to be akin to navy conscription. I don’t personally know anybody who was excited forward of final yr’s present, and although I used to be each there and obsessed with what I noticed, I used to be removed from the one one feeling weary — then, over time, bodily sick with a mysterious fever and cough. Months later, the 2020 CES was retrospectively recognized as a doubtless mass an infection zone for the coronavirus pandemic, and turned out to be the yr’s final main tech business occasion to keep away from cancellation.

Regardless of these cancellations and seismic work-from-home adjustments inside the know-how business, CES’ organizers have introduced that they “plan to proceed as scheduled” with CES 2021: It’s going to be “one other in-person occasion in Las Vegas,” coupled with “a wider collection of live-streamed CES content material” and “many different participating digital and digital alternatives.” Reasonably than exhaustively itemizing new well being and security precautions for the occasion, the Client Expertise Affiliation (CTA) provided a “sampling” of plans that look so much like those GSMA mentioned it might undertake for MWC Barcelona earlier than that equally necessary occasion was scuttled over coronavirus issues. At this level, you may appropriately guess them your self: sanitization, social distancing, carrying masks, and so forth.

Even when I had by no means attended CES, not one of the listed measures would make me really feel snug attending the present subsequent yr. At each previous CES, I’ve waded via crowds as dense as those who flooded U.S. airports after the federal government banned worldwide journey, so I can not think about that CES attendees will realistically be capable to preserve the 6-foot distances from strangers that well being authorities mandate. I’ve even much less confidence that every one and even a lot of the present’s 170,000 attendees will preserve carrying masks always whereas traversing the countless conference halls. It’s laborious sufficient to breathe with no masks whereas dashing from constructing to constructing, sales space to sales space at CES, so why assume individuals will willingly settle for the added moisture and warmth of a protecting protect on high of that?

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Maybe CTA has but to announce further measures that can skinny the herds of attendees, comparable to much more stringent registration necessities, invite-only admission methods, or one other trick to chop down crowd sizes. However CES is marketed to exhibitors on the strengths of its giant pool of attendees and big scope. Would corporations attend if solely half the individuals have been allowed to point out up? And can individuals willingly go to a 2021 present which will have been a scorching zone in 2020?

I’m actually undecided at this level what’s going to occur over the following few months — whether or not CTA will simply proceed transferring ahead with a largely in-person occasion, or radically rebalance the content material to favor digital and downplay in-person attendance — however I don’t see “enterprise (principally) as typical” as being a viable resolution at this level. But that’s the path the group seems to be taking, no matter whether or not previous attendees are snug collaborating in a bodily occasion.

My perception is that CTA’s present effort to remain the course is due extra to the group’s momentum, construction, and exterior obligations than attendee issues. First, CES 2021 will concentrate on an in-person occasion as a result of all prior CESes have targeted on in-person occasions. Second, CTA has unparalleled expertise in making Las Vegas buildings and autos work collectively for an enormous present, however much less expertise in internet hosting digital occasions. Third, it has made commitments to Las Vegas, and as The Verge factors out, subsequent yr’s present would coincide with an almost $1 billion renovation of the Las Vegas Conference Heart — cash that was little question spent to accommodate CTA and CES wants. If there’s no bodily CES 2021 occasion, the harm to Las Vegas could be large, simply as MWC’s cancellation rocked Barcelona.

Don’t neglect about exhibitors or CTA itself. Many corporations dedicated to cubicles at CES 2021 whereas attending CES 2020, and whether or not they’re skittish or not, they should begin getting ready budgets, cubicles, personnel, and bulletins many months upfront of a commerce present. Neither they nor CTA can afford to attend till November or December to be totally dedicated to a bodily CES 2021. In the event that they’re going to tug out, CTA could be higher off redefining the scope of the present on the sooner aspect, quite than having large pockets of house deserted on the final second. And who is aware of what influence mass-scale pullouts may need on CTA’s personal fortunes?

Above: How will exhibitors like Samsung supply “look however don’t contact” displays for gadgets such because the Galaxy Fold at CES?

Picture Credit score: Jeremy Horwitz/VentureBeat

Having mentioned that, my perception is that attendees’ wants and public well being issues presently weigh in opposition to holding a bodily present that appears like previous CES exhibitions. It might be a tough capsule for CTA to swallow, however there needs to be an alternative choice to shoehorning large numbers of individuals into conference halls to gawk at outsized TV units and automobiles. Anticipating individuals to look however not contact or breathe on spotlighted objects is unrealistic — not less than, to the extent that it might should be to truly assure correct sanitization, quite than simply claiming it.

The apparent different is to belatedly however considerably shift the present to a digital format, and due to COVID-19, I imagine many if not most CES attendees are actually able to make that change. April’s profitable GamesBeat Summit 2020 demonstrated how digital occasions have taken off this yr in ways in which might solely have been imagined beforehand. Sure, individuals may need loved attending the identical occasion in particular person on the initially deliberate Los Angeles venue, however the on-line Summit really loved higher worldwide attendance, and individuals had zero want to fret about journey bills, private sicknesses, or whether or not different individuals have been sick. These advantages and issues are dramatically magnified for CES.

Pivoting to an virtually fully or all-digital format would absolutely be a considerable problem for CES, given CTA’s historical past and people of the numerous legacy corporations that take part within the present. However the outcomes we’ve seen from GamesBeat Summit and subsequent on-line occasions are yielding loads of proof that the change to digital was the suitable transfer for each organizers and attendees.

Solely time will inform whether or not CTA stays on its current path for CES 2021. Having gotten sick over the last present, I hope that the group dramatically modifies its plans earlier than it’s too late, lest one of many yr’s most necessary know-how occasions turns into one thing individuals can’t even be conscripted into attending in particular person.

This submit by Jeremy Horwitz initially appeared on VentureBeat.

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