I agree with my friend Harry McCracken that CES 2009 was definitely smaller than past years. But I vehemently disagree with Dean Takahashi’s assesment that this is a “grim” stat. In my opinion, the show had swelled well past the breaking point over the past few years. This is what killed shows like Comdex and E3 (though for differing reasons of course). Any industry dealing with excess bloat must find a way to trim its own fat or it will sooner or later get overtaken by it. I think the smaller show, you know, with only 110,000 attendees (that was meant to be read aloud with a highly sarcastic tone and some eye-rolling) is a good thing, and I think there are a few other changes that should come with it.
In no particular order…
- Make a limit on booth sizes. The biggest booths (and I use the term lightly) are over 20,000 square feet (Samsung, Sony, Panasonic, etc). From some fairly reliable sources I’ve been told these companies are spending over $15,000,000 each on the show (I was told over $20MM for one of them). This is not money well spent. While I’m all for capitalism, if the CEA takes proactive measures to help curb these kinds of spending, they will be less likely to have these budgets questioned in future years (think about it – would you rather see a downsized Panasonic, or no Panasonic???). Also, it’d be hard to argue that anyone is really “losing” anything by being “constrained” to a 100′x100′ booth.
- Get rid of the Sands. As much as I’ve enjoyed demoing from the Sands over the past few years for various companies, it’s unquestionably the poorly cared for stepchild of the show. The hours are worse, and so is the traffic. There’s plenty of room in the LVCC for everyone, and if my predictions on a smaller ’10 show are right, a fully packed show will “feel” a lot better than trying to do a little “combover” to hide the thinner regions (trust me on that one).
- Move the event back two weeks. I’m filing this one in the “I’m right, but it’ll never ever happen” category. The current schedule is utterly painful for everyone involved in the show, and causes strains on personal lives for the tens of thousands of families who don’t get to enjoy December vacation times because they are prepping for this show. Also, it always overlaps with other events, such as Macworld and the NFL playoffs.
- Embrace Showstoppers (and Pepcom too, I guess). The CEA treats these media events as if they are parasitic, but they are not, they are symbiotic. As a guy who has successfully brought multiple no-name companies to the forefront of the show, I can tell you even the best contacts in the world still won’t guarantee decent press coverage with all the surrounding noise. This year alone, the 4 clients my firm brought to Showstoppers generated literally dozens of extra articles written, all of which reflect CES in a good light. It’s a clear win-win, and even if it’s not a direct profit generator, it should be welcomed.
- Improve the press list process. I wrote a guest post over at Technosailor trying to share my insights into “the CES pitch” from both perspectives. The process from both the pitch-or and pitch-ee is terrible. I received hundreds of pitches, of which at least 1/2 were about products that I’d never write about, ever. On the other hand we pitched about 400 writers, of which I’d assume no more than 1/10 (probably more like 1/20) would’ve found our clients uninteresting (which I can say with confidence based on the coverage they did receive at the show). The problem was many of those 400 had already received so many other pitches, their “CES” filter was in high gear. The press list needs more “rules” about how it is used, specifically to help the right stories find the right audiences. I’d suggest that both exhibitors and press must pick specific categories to send/receive pitches, and the list be database-controlled by CEA. If anyone is listening at all, get in touch and I can outline my thoughts in much more constructive detail.
- Clean up your database and registration system. My fellow Canadian Saleem Khan reminded me of this one. Even though I pre-registered with my media credentials in August (or so), somehow my email address continued to receive biweekly reminders that I needed to sign up to attend CES 2009. Further, once I had registered, I needed another account for the MyCES portal, and I think a third account for another subsection of the site. While the first step was clean and flawless, the entire rest was messy.
- Prep the net. By 2010, I’d wager a strong majority of the “interesting” demonstrations will show fully connected devices. We already saw the Yahoo TV widget system on numerous sets (my prediction: nice try, but no adoption – more some other time), and that’s just the beginning. The topic of my session during Jeff Pulver’s Social Media Jungle was “The Convergence of CE and Social Media” and it’s all about IP-enabled consumer electronics. Internet connectivity in booths and at the show in general was spotty. That was okay for CES ’99, but was disappointing during ’09. Fix it (and the WiFi) for ’10.
- Figure out the social media integration. There were a lot of “social media folks” hanging out at the show, or more to the point, kinda near the show. I’m not exactly sure where the integration was, but it’s weird to me that the “famous social media video wine guy” was a sought-out “internelebrity” for the show. No offense to Mr Vee (or any other of my colleagues from the social media scene), but considering the founders of Engadget and Gizmodo were there, not to mention all the rest of us whose actual jobs sit at the intersection of the gadget world and the social media world, it seemed a bit… forced. This should be spearheaded by CEA, and built from the CE-side up, not from the social media side down. As a result, the grand majority of the 110,000 attendees and millions who followed the event online had no awareness of things like The Ultimate Blogger Dinner, the miscellaneous TweetUps, and other endeavours which had potential, but just poorly integrated to the show.
- Fix up the Innovations Awards system. While the judges do a dandy job every year, there are way too many awards being handed out. For awards to have merit, they need to be limited, it’s simple supply and demand. Modernize and reduce the categories from 34 (yes, 34) to 20 or less. Integrate some method of public voting and commenting (you could use uservoice.com to do it) to complement the judges (definitely don’t do away with the judges. for reference, check out what happened to this year’s NHL All-Star voting!). And less finalists per category – five would be plenty.
- More Monoliths.
Well, I’m sure I’ll come up with more 15 minutes from now, but I think that’s a healthy start. If anyone from CEA would like more details, I’ll happily provide. I’m looking forward to next year’s show, though hopefully I won’t get sick this time. Yes, even after all my own advice, I somehow picked up the CES Flu this year, and it was a doozy. I guess some things don’t stay in Vegas after all.