You won't find me at CES 2016

CES 2015 Show Selfie

This morning I asked someone stomping around the Consumer Electronics Show: "Will your team survive CES? Will anyone?" She answered: "Survival rates still TBD". True that. Today is officially Day 1, but that's a meaningless designation. Major announcements started Day -1, and there were even more on what I call Day 0 because the opening keynote is that evening. Acer shot its wad on January 4th, for example. The 5th brought major announcements from Casio, HP, Lenovo, Samsung, Sony, and, among many, many, many, many more vendors.

CES is such a cacophony of product announcements early is the only way to assure news coverage. Hehe, if any. With so many of vendor mini-events already completed, one could contend that the Consumer Electronics Show is over before the first day ends.

I haven't flown to Las Vegas since 2008 and, yes, celebrate my eighth year kicking CES to the curb. It's not worth my time or money. The news value is null. (Although I might feel differently if writing for a high-traffic tech blog where geek readers can't get enough information fast enough about the next, new thing.  Audience matters. Write for it.)

The press meetings rarely yield meaningful relationships, because you're just one of many reporters that vendors grope for attention (CES 2015 official number of news media attendees: 6,592). Deals are made at the show, and for the companies or venture capitalists making them there is huge value rarely seen behind the mayhem. But I'm no rainmaker, just a lowly journalist.

Noise, Noise, Noise

Chaos is the best way to describe CES, which real appeal is competitive insanity. That's the only sense I can make of the madness. "If my competitor goes and gets exposure for its product, I might lose something" or "If my competitor goes there must be value in my attending, too". Value? Don't make me laugh. If there was real value for most vendor attendees so many of them wouldn't rush announcements to get ahead of the noise. Official CES 2015 number of product announcements: 20,000-plus, from 3,631 exhibits and 60,217 exhibitor attendees. Yikes!

CES 2015 was one of the worst for preannouncements, which already were bad two years earlier. As New Years 2016 dawned, I couldn't imagine how this year's show could outdo the last one. But it has, so far.  They generally started later, Day -1, but nevertheless packed in a shitload by end of Day 0. Why hold an event at all, if no one waits for the start? Or the big news is over before the first day ends?

The problem is no one wanting to miss press coverage and so everyone yells about their products at once—and early. Seriously, I expect little meaningful left come Thursday morning (January 7). The pileup means that:

  • Even more products are lost in the noise
  • There is too much at once for bloggers and journalists to cover
  • Smaller, deserving vendors are missed, even with something really cool
  • People bug out of the show earlier, because all the news is over—wasting attendees' time and money

I'm a huge fan of smaller events hosted by tech companies, where there is more focus and clear message. CES is too big for most vendors and bloggers, broadcasters, or journalists covering it. If there is any real value to such a large venue, it's for retail buyers and distributors. Even then, I wonder.

The Audience Here Is...

Let's talk about them more, the buyers and distributors, because from my vantage point on the outside looking in they are the trade show's real audience. The rest of us are window shoppers.

What else makes sense of CES largely being the largest vaporware show on the planet? It's bad enough that vendors yell over one another to get noticed, to glean even a smidgen of marketing attention. Many, and in past years most, announce products that don't ship for months. Some won't release until Holiday 2016. If you're a consumer electronics or tech manufacturer looking to line up retail and other distributers, yelling now and shipping later is sensible enough.

Problem: From a broader product marketing perspective, announcing now and shipping months later is ditz-for-brains promotion. They say the Internet never forgets, but people do. Today's saliva-generating tech toy is forgotten tomorrow and most certainly in three months. If not for bloggers feeding the InterWebs rumors like a momma bird worms to her brood, few people would remember CES' new thing turned past tense.

But I wonder, do you really need a huge venue like CES to line up retail and other distribution deals? I ask because of risk. Tech companies spend millions of dollars on network and other security to deter, and hopefully prevent, corporate espionage. Yet they parade trade secrets at a hugely public event, with scads of press coverage and competitors' spies lurking everywhere.

Yeah, the big manufacturer's product gets noticed and deals are signed. But the new thing is copied and released months earlier, with the original providing free-marketing tailwind. Hehe, today's Best of Show is tomorrow's ripped-off and released.

That's good segue looking at the intended CES audience another way. About one-third of 2015's 176,676 attendees was exhibit personnel. General attendees: 109,507, or 54.5 percent of all. That's right, excluding news media, 4.5 out of every 10 attendees exhibited. Ah, yeah.

If Consumer Electronics Show is your big thing this week, power to you. Enjoy! As a journalist and storyteller, my attention is elsewhere.

Photo Credit: CES

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