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Has CES Got Too Big?

Has CES Got Too Big?

This year the event was bigger than ever before with the addition of new categories such as wearable and robots, last year it was more cars and drones.

Now questions are being asked as to whether CES has got too big and above all unproductive for attendees.

Launching a new product at CES alongside thousands of other new products makes it very difficult for brands to get traction and above all attention as everyone is vying to reach the 4,000 + journalists who attend or the 160,000 + resellers and distributors. 

CES is now about more than just TVs and PCs. Now cars and other connected devices are on display along with appliances and sound gear, drones and robots.

The sheer size of the show – 160,000 attendees, 52,000 exhibitors and 20,000 product announcements – meant some big firms were really scaling back their presence as it was so hard to make the event work for them.

This was my 19th CES and prior to that Comdex and one of the things that I noticed is that it is becoming very difficult to get from one area to another because of the crowds, transport issues and the use of locations spread out from one end of Las Vegas to the other. 

Some vendors have already moved to cut the size of their stands including Samsung and Hisense, several like D Link, Logitech and hundreds of sound brands have moved to taking suites in hotels so that they can hand pick the retailers they want to meet while also eliminating the hordes who flock onto a show floor stand.  

This year there were no big launches of gadgets that defined a new category and that got everybody drooling, even the Samsung presentation was low key compared to past years, though we did get a very slim 1TB drive from the Korean Company. 

By contrast, 2014 was all about wearables and CES 2013 was full of giant, ultra hi-def TVs.

Stuart Miles, founder of gadget news site Pocket-lint, who has attended CES for the last 15 years told the BBC that there was a good reason for the lack of razzmatazz from the biggest consumer electronics firms.

“They don’t like being told when to launch,” he said.

Debuting a consumer gadget these days is not a trivial matter and few firms are keen to do it for a show that falls after one the busiest buying seasons, said Mr Miles.

Instead, he said, those big electronics firms prefer to do the launches at their own event and use it as the start of their long marketing campaign for a particular gadget. By contrast to those smoothly engineered events, he said, CES is a chaotic cacophony over which it would be hard for any firm no matter its size, to make its gadget stand out.

“Dell’s press conference was in a bar in a hotel,” said Mr Miles. “And it wasn’t a very big bar, at that.”

Contributing to this lack of focus was the real rise in start-ups that were being seen at the show in ever greater numbers, he said.

The BBC said that crowdfunding sites had funnelled cash towards lots of garage entrepreneurs who were at the show to promote their invention and, hopefully, get the bigger companies taking on or backing their work.

“There’s been a real democratisation of technology,” he said. “Anyone can now create a prototype, get funded on Kickstarter or Indiegogo and bring it to CES.”

Martin Garner, another veteran CES goer from analyst house CCS Insight, said the fact that big players were running their own launch events at other times had not brought about an “existential crisis” that left CES rueing its lost relevance.

“The people who worry most about the lack of focus are those who try to digest it all,” he said. “The analysts and journalists.”

He said “Companies have got very smart at using CES to build their digital brand,” he said. Showcasing a gadget in Las Vegas, giving people information about what it can do and how it can be used, seeding information on social media were all ways CES was used as part of that broader mix of communication every firm had to pursue these days, said Mr Curran.

“There’s also tremendous value in having a common physical location for the industry to come together and to be able to engage in these face-to-face conversations,” he said. “It’s as exciting and relevant as it’s ever been.”