EN meets the team behind the mammoth Consumer Electronics Show, a truly global event at the very forefront of the industry it serves.
Whether or not you work in the world of exhibitions, it was almost impossible to miss the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) when it returned to Las Vegas Convention Center in January 2019 for its 52nd edition. The press descended on the show as exhibitors battled for attention with innovative stands, immersive experiences and of course mind-blowing new tech products.
Organised by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), the show is a behemoth covering over 250,000sqm and welcoming more than 170,000 visitors through the door in 2019. In a time when many large, international events around the globe are struggling or have closed their doors (in particular German computer expo CeBIT, which held its last event in 2018, comes to mind), CES is not only surviving but thriving.
It has become a topic for discussion and debate in the exhibition industry – is it better in the long run to be the giant tanker, powering ahead on its course, or the small, nippy sailboat, able to quickly move in whatever direction the wind blows? And, to possibly overstretch the metaphor, is it more about the quality of the experience you have on board?
Not to mention, how does the CTA ensure that CES stays at the very forefront of an industry as fast-moving and ever-changing industry as consumer tech? To find out, EN sat down with executive vice president Karen Chupka to delve into the details and take a peek behind the scenes.
The entire ecosystem
“One of the benefits of CES is that the show itself represents so many different industries and technologies,” Chupka tells EN. “It’s the one place where everybody can come and see all of the ecosystem of technologies. That gives us a lot of opportunities to continually build out new voices, bring in new participants and create new areas that help keep the show fresh and exciting for everybody.”
When the show launched in 1957 the world of consumer technology was of course drastically different to today. In those days, says Chupka, CES primarily consisted of technologies like stereo equipment, video equipment and audio equipment, while CES 2019 covered everything from 5G, augmented and virtual reality and robots to healthcare tech and agricultural equipment.
“Each year we look at trying to have at least three new things that we’re bringing into the show,” continues Chupka. “If [the technology] is in the early stages we may start with conference programming, and then we continue to build as the market gets bigger with exhibits and showcases on the floor.”
One of the relatively new sectors for 2019 was the world of tourism technology, with Carnival Cruise Line in attendance launching one of the first ‘smart ships’ onto the marketplace.
“This year we had about 100 different products that were travel and tourism and potentially now for 2020 we will look to having something that’s a little bit more of a focused, dedicated area for tourism,” says Chupka. “We’re looking at making sure that we’re also promoting it to the right attendee base, so that they know this area is here at the show and something they can come and see.”
One of the striking stats from CES 2019 is that international visitors made up around 35 per cent of the visitor base (if EN’s maths can be believed), coming from between 150 and 155 countries.
“It’s unique in that it gives a global perspective of how technology is shaping the future,” agrees Chupka. “It really serves as an opportunity for companies to come in and get a good overview of how technology can change their business. It truly is a global event.”
The media presence at the show is also extremely international, with over 6,000 members of the press descending on the show from all around the world.
“When companies are looking for product launches, they’re looking for press opportunities and how their brand can be promoted globally,” continues Chupka. “We actually have a separate venue where we host all the press events. We do that so it’s easier for the media to be able to cover and go from one even to the next.
“We schedule things so that we’re not conflicting two brands who are making a major announcement at the same time. That’s also what helps generate so much coverage of the show, making it easier for the press to be able to write the stories and to read about the products and technology. Companies know this is still a huge opportunity to get global press and to get that analysis out.”
As an association organiser, the CTA as the advantage of working closely with the consumer technology sector 365 days a year, whether it’s lobbying on behalf of members, carrying out research or just meeting with top brands in the industry.
“We have the benefit of not only having our pulse on what’s happening but also having a very dedicated group of members that are all very willing to help us understand where the new markets are and where the new opportunities are,” adds Chupka. “That’s definitely a benefit of association-run shows in the marketplace. When there’s something new that they’re working on, or they’re seeing new opportunities, they tell us about it.”
Telling a brand story
As with any exhibition, exhibitors at CES are competing with each other to be noticed and talked about.
“CES has a long history of reinvention as they have strived to stay at forefront of the industry with meticulous planning and this year was no different,” Freeman president Phil Molyneux tells EN. “Exhibitors were working tirelessly to stand out from the crowd with monolithic, cathedral-like exhibits designed to immerse attendees in their product and service experience.”
Google made headlines by tripling its presence from 2018 to 2019 and by having a rollercoaster on the stand designed to show visitors in a fun and immersive way how they could use Google Assistant throughout the day.
“Google wanted this to be a really great experience for people,” says Chupka. “One of the fun things is that we get to sit down with companies and really help them try to figure out how to do something with their brand that helps resonate with what they’re trying to achieve at the show.”
Finally, it isn’t just big brands that have a home at the show. CES ensures that small companies and start-ups have an opportunity to exhibit and to potentially find new partners or buyers. The show’s start-up area featured over 1,200 companies hailing from all around the world at the 2019 event.
“We had some really great success stories of companies that came into that area, received funding and grew year-on-year into larger companies.,” concludes Chupka. “As an association that is one of our most important rules – helping small businesses come to the show and grow.”