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CES ‘risks becoming non-event’ because of reduced attendance amid Covid concerns

·4-min read

This year’s CES technology convention is in danger of becoming a “non-event” compared with previous years because of the reduced attendance caused by concerns over Covid, one analyst has warned.

The three-day event, traditionally a key date in the industry calendar, opens on Wednesday in Las Vegas as an in-person gathering but has been hindered by a number of firms and media outlets choosing to only participate virtually because of concerns over the spread of the Omicron variant.

CES organiser the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) has put strict Covid measures in place to protect attendees and reduced it from its traditional four-day schedule but said it was important for the convention to go ahead to help struggling smaller firms get into the public eye.

However, industry expert Leo Gebbie said the ongoing uncertainty was causing some firms to withhold substantial announcements for another time.

Mr Gebbie, a principal analyst for connected devices at CCS Insight, said: “Although over 1,000 companies have committed to showcasing their latest technologies at CES, we believe that the ongoing pandemic – and the impact of the Omicron variant – will lead to a substantially reduced delegate attendance, particularly from international visitors.

“The decision by the majority of the leading tech media outlets to cancel in-person attendance and cover the show remotely will be a huge blow to the organisers.

“On this basis, we are pessimistic about the impact it will have and fear that it risks becoming somewhat of a non-event compared to CESs of yesteryear.”

Although a number of the tech industry’s biggest names, including Sony, Samsung, Panasonic and Intel, are making announcements at CES, Mr Gebbie said it was already proving difficult to spot the leading topics at the show this year and said he was “sceptical” that any of the big firms would unveil “anything of substance”.

The uncertainty created by Covid, he said, was accelerating a trend in the industry for brands to move away from trade shows and host their own standalone events instead.

“Trade shows like CES continue to struggle with uncertainty as Covid concerns mean that it remains difficult for people to plan ahead and guarantee their attendance,” he said.

“The last few years have seen online news events and announcements become more deeply entrenched and we believe that many large companies are increasingly attracted by hosting their own events and controlling its news flow, rather than sharing the stage with others at trade shows which are struggling to bring people into the room.”

The CTA has been upbeat about the planned attendance for CES despite a number of high-profile companies switching from physical press conferences to virtual ones.

Before the show opened, it said that “over 2,200 exhibitors are confirmed to exhibit in person” and that even as some businesses scaled back their attendance “143 additional companies have signed up to exhibit in person”.

So far at the show, Sony has announced its new range of Bravia televisions as well as confirming the name of its virtual reality headset for the PlayStation 5 will be PlayStation VR2, while new smartglasses made by Chinese firm TCL, laptops from Dell and Predator gaming monitors from Acer have also been among the early announcements.

Mr Gebbie also warned that the reduced in-person attendance could hurt smaller firms and emerging technologies going forward – many of which rely on CES to find new investors and get some media spotlight.

“For some emerging technologies, the lack of in-person attendees at CES will present a problem,” he said.

“For example, at CES 2020, virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR) technologies attracted a lot of attention, but innovation in this space is harder to convey virtually than in-person. We think that another year of diminished audiences may be frustrating to some of the smaller and emerging technology categories which were typically able to make a splash at trade shows in the past.”

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