Is CES Too Big for Its Own Good?
I think about the answer to the question posed in the headline like that age-old cliché: Would you rather be good at a lot of things or truly excel at one thing? It’s not an easy answer, because each has its own benefits and drawbacks. But let’s think about this from the perspective of North America’s single largest trade show.
CES, right now, is clearly more representative of the former portion of that cliché. It’s good at being a lot of things to a lot of people. The size and scope of this show proves that. It’s massive. And there are plenty of positive points with regards to the expansiveness of CES. Bringing together nearly the entire consumer tech industry for a week of exhibitions, keynote presentations, and educational sessions allows attendees to get up close with some of the biggest names in the market and hear from some of the brightest minds. Plenty of meetings are had and more networking gets done during this week than probably any other time of the year.
That said, hosting a trade show that spans the entire Las Vegas Convention Center, the entire Sands Convention Center, and countless suites in countless offsite hotels creates its own very unique set of problems. As someone who is now in his third year of attending CES, I know that I’m far from the most seasoned individual to walk these halls. But in Year Three, I at least have a sense of what this show brings to the table, and not all of it is appetizing.
Take Eureka Park, for example. This collection of nearly 1,000 companies that gets shoved in the basement of the Sands Expo feels like a who’s who of vaporware. No hard data that I could uncover seems to exist, but I’d venture to guess that about half of the companies who’ve exhibited in that space in a given year come back to CES a year later. Parts of the hall—like the university and crowdfunding booths—are certainly interesting to go through and provide exceptional insight into what technology those platforms are pushing. But the other stuff can be really hard to look at. There is the occasional diamond in the rough that you’ll come across, but good luck having a meaningful conversation in a booth that’s likely smaller than your hotel room’s bathroom while thousands of people cram their way through the aisles.
The other aspect of the show that has become increasingly frustrating is the human mass that it dumps of the city of Las Vegas during the early portion of January each year. This year, I smartly parked myself in a single venue each day to avoid the long wait times for Uber and the traffic in between buildings, but even navigating the halls of the show floor seemed difficult as I had to weave my way in and around crowds of individuals who plugged up the aisles and avoid getting run over by the Olympic speed walkers who were out in full force. When simply getting lunch becomes a chore, you start to feel disenchanted as an attendee.
As for potential solutions, CES and Las Vegas are hard at work expanding the LVCC grounds to fit a larger portion of the show in a single location, which will be a huge win once complete. But what about the mass of people and the congestion it creates? I don’t envision CES ever implementing a hard cap on the number of attendees, but it might not be the worst idea in the world. Or, at the risk of sounding like an old industry curmudgeon, it’d be more efficient as a member of the media to get into an exhibitors booth prior to the show’s official open rather than get shuffled from one room to the next for press conferences. Converting those media days into events that take place in the LVCC and Sands would be more useful. Sony already hosts their press conference at their booth, so why can’t other companies?
As the hotbed of consumer tech news and launches in the U.S., I get the excitement and wanting to be here. It’s a show that has historically produced some of the greatest gadgets and biggest tech innovations. It’s the place to be in early January. I just wish I could avoid the inevitable feeling of being overwhelmed and over it by the end of the week.