The Consumer Electronic Show - CES2021: IT’S HERE…BUT IT’S NOT


CES went virtual last week with the usual pros and cons. With Vegas quiet this year due to the COVID Pandemic CES will be on-line only for the industry heavy hitters from hi tech electronics, telecommunications, computers, auto industry and a variety of other smaller companies from healthcare products and robotics…including those sci-fi looking robot “people” who apparently can do more than humans on many levels.


Browsing the tech sections of on-line news feeds, the headlines are leaning towards bigger, thinner, tech packed TV’s and monitor screens, followed by foldable/flexible screens for phones and laptops. As we could predict, robots are big – everything from sanitizing machines, robotic pets and one that will clean the house and pour you a glass of wine at the end of the day (Once again The Jetsons predicted our future)


What was Different?

The virtual General Sessions, complete with industry panelists, will address the more than 150,000 attendees, NOT from Vegas, but from various production studios around the country to the worldwide audience. Car Tech will be huge, along with big consumer names WALMART, Samsung, LG, AT&T, Yada, Yada, Yada.


Forecasting the Future

According to USA Today, the CTA, (The Consumer Technology Association) which runs CES, made the decision to go virtual in early 2020 with the expectation that January of ‘21 would be peak season for COVID. (Right on Target!) To make the shift CTA chose Microsoft Teams to create the on-line world due to several major important factors – customization, cybersecurity, a huge cloud to handle the traffic and they had the experience hosting their own live events.


Virtual Attendance

Early indications are that the Virtual CES is a success! The numbers went up from 1800 to

2000 participating companies with past exhibitors choosing to expand their content and offerings to this year’s wider, virtual audience. An added benefit of the digital show allows attendees and the press to have access for 30 days from the close of the show granting additional press coverage, as well as an extra opportunity for companies and customers to connect. Subsequently, the audience has grown more inclusive with active global participation of attendees that would not traditionally travel to Vegas for 4 days of late-night networking events, sensory overloaded treks through the yellow-brick-road of gadgets and tech booths, shoved in countless convention halls and event spaces.

Another indication that the show will be success is the price of admission.


The Dollars & Sense

CES2020 registration costs ranged from $300 (exhibitor only pass) to $1700 (all access/conference pass).Where CES2021 offered and early-bird discount of $149 and regular access pass of $499 admission


For exhibitors, the costs savings are significant from virtual to the “in-person” experience due to the variety of costs associated with building and presenting a physical booth for 4 days in Las Vegas. The T&E savings alone will be a corporate procurement manager’s “sticking-point” of an argument that only virtual is the solution to trade-show activity moving forward.


Savvy Marketers will need to present counter arguments that “only virtual” is a risk to their brand when the world cycles out of COVID protocols. People still want to “kick the tires and smell the leather of a new car” is definitely a starting point.




Looking Ahead

Hybrid Events will be the solution – a combination of virtual and in person experiences – resulting in smaller investment/travel for management teams and marketing dollars.

Post show reports will review the analytics and by all measures it will be a success. However, there are many that expressed the loss of the in-person experience. A BBC article quotes several industry analysts bemoaning the fact that “seeing products in real life and networking are without a doubt the two biggest reasons to attend CES and it will be very hard to replicate these two digitally.”


Small companies, the hidden gems of emerging tech, is also a driving factor in the success of CES. Finding those gems in the Cloud, regardless of how long the content is available, will be a hard chore for some. And really, isn’t it way cooler to watch a robot pour you glass of wine, and offer it in person?


NOTE: The Consumer Technology Association is a standards and trade organization representing more than 2,200 consumer technology companies in the United States. CTA works to influence public policy, holds events such as the Consumer Electronics Show and CES Asia, conducts market research, and helps its members and regulators implement technical standards.


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