Has CES Outlived Its Usefulness?

By  |  Friday, January 7, 2011 at 6:54 pm

As we are ready to close the book on yet another CES, and its  exhibitors and attendees pack their bags to make the trip home, it begs the question: Is CES even useful anymore? Is it a product of a bygone era in tech, now rendered nearly useless in this age of the 24-hour news cycle?

It’s a good question, and one that definitely is worthy of debate among the tech community at large.

In the interest of full disclosure, my first (and last) CES was in 2005, as part of the Betanews staff. I have to admit as a tech geek I was certainly excited. But upon getting there, I found myself more disappointed than anything: Looking for good stuff there seemed like something akin to searching for a needle in a haystack.

CES’s size was more than overwhelming. While the event is apparently somehow organized–it seemed to me as if money talks and those who could afford what must obviously be the steep booth rates got the best locations, and  were the easiest to find.

The real turnoff to me was the chaotic nature. A sea of what is basically junk covered up the good stuff. This led to frustration, as I felt like I was spending an entire day sifting out the dirt to find what little gold I could.

Another thing — which Farhad Manjoo at Slate wrote at length about — was how little was actually new. See, PR companies have a knack at wrapping up something that is old news and attempt to make it seem new. This makes the journalist’s job at shows like this event more difficult: you end up wasting your time on things when you could have been scouring the floor for the next big thing.

The nature of this show also means that smaller companies have a harder time breaking through the noise — they’re fighting the flashy booths of their big time competitors for your attention. We’re all human, and like flies to a bug zapper we’re attracted to bright pretty lights.

In the end, it becomes a question of whether CES is even useful anymore, and I’d argue in its current form it is not. The expense of covering these shows often exceed any revenues you’d get as a result of it, and often there’s very little that is worth the reader’s time.

Personally I prefer the smaller shows. Heck, CEA — the organization that runs CES itself — throws one. These shows are much smaller and in my experience, produce a heck of a lot more news. Smaller companies are on a more even keel with their larger competitors, and it becomes a matter of quality of your wares rather than your standing in the industry or how appealing your booth is.

I know of at least one major tech company (who will remain nameless) whose PR director I’ve talked to that says it has all but pulled out of CES for exactly that reason. She said the response — and coverage — her company gets out of these smaller shows is much more beneficial than anything that has come out of CES or similar large-scale events.

Will other companies ever see this too? Probably not. But sooner or later the current format is going to collapse on itself. Companies can do what they do at CES on a smaller scale, and on their own time.

I’m interested to hear what others think. Am I alone? I’m going to guess that I’m not.



14 Comments For This Post

  1. kirk Says:


  2. johnwbaxter Says:

    It's partly about the press and partly about buyers looking at product for the next holiday season.

    You've described the press' frustration well.

    How is a buyer going to make any rational decisions about, say, tablets when they weren't anything like real yet. (Although they could say…hmm, Honeycomb, and maybe a couple of others will be worth looking in tablets–and Microsoft based if they sell to business.) The buyers were already burned on 3D; they'll need more convincing. And so on.

    So do the exhibiters get enough from the buyer side to make the effort worth while? Well, they keep coming. (Except Apple, HP, and some others–HP might have been there for non-tablet, I don't know.)

    Suggestion (for someone there, or for later): interview some buyers as to general reaction (they won't give details on the record, of course).

  3. JaredNewman Says:

    While I agree that there's a lot of fluff, hype and BS at CES, I think that's going to be the case with any trade show. Certainly at E3 — a much smaller, more focused show — there's plenty of stuff no one cares about, and lots of old game demos masquerading as new.

    I think CES is useful because of its scale, not despite it. Breaking everything down into smaller shows would shut out people who can't make the commitment of extra time and travel expenses, myself included. And the timing at the beginning of the year is important because vendors are laying our their roadmaps through the next holiday season.

    CES serves as a one-stop shop. It allows someone like me to get an early look at upcoming products across many product categories and meet people face-to-face. If Blackberry holds an event for the Playbook in New York on its own time, I'm not going to go. But seeing the Playbook at CES is as simple as walking up to the booth and standing in line for two minutes. Now whenever I write about it in the future, I'll have that experience to draw upon.

  4. Stilgar Says:

    I dunno, I think companies like to try and have "the biggest gadget at CES" so they kind of like the competition of everyone announcing a bunch of new stuff at the same time.

    An example of something that should be axed is ComiCon. Not at all about comic books anymore and more about nerd pop-culture and movie trailers. Weak.

  5. The_Heraclitus Says:

    I heard from a couple of other industry vets that it wasn't a good show this year. Also, I heard that there were FAR fewer industry vet journalists attending this year. Notable exceptions being yourself, John, Eric L. etc. But, overall, far fewer than a few years ago. This alone should give companies pause before spending on CES…

  6. Ed Oswald Says:

    I wouldn't call myself a vet! hah! But yeah, it just seems as if the show is no longer serving a good purpose.. like I said, its too difficult these days to find that diamond in the rough…

  7. The_Heraclitus Says:

    Sorry, I thought Harry was opining. But, if Harry hired you, well, ya gotta be a potential "vet". 😉

  8. JaredNewman Says:

    I actually thought this was a really exciting show, especially compared to last year. I won't get into too many specifics here, but in general there's a ton of action happening with communication between the three screens, natural input (gestures and touch controls) and way-powerful mobile devices. I don't know what these vets you spoke to were hoping to see.

  9. The_Heraclitus Says:

    The stuff you just mentioned isn't new news. Exciting ≠ to news worthy or recouping time lost (the higher up the food chain you go, the more valuable your time becomes) that could be spent doing something more productive. I hope your writing career goes a fraction as well as the people I work with and you find need to apply that data. 🙂

  10. Mix Master Max Says:

    the human factor.. Yes .. we could all live inside cyberspace and send each other emails about new products.. it's nice to meet contacts, get face time, and touch and feel 50 products in one day.. I guess I'll have to buy a virtual reality helmet and jack onto the Intertubes to go to Ed's ideal trade show.

    Ed .. if you are too lazy to find the diamond in the rough.. don't go.. maybe you can Google it instead..

    The problem is .. journalists are getting lazier.. just parroting other blogs instead of having an original thought.. kinda like this blog parroting Slate.

  11. dholyer Says:

    CES when it began was like a Insiders secret to new thing. Since 1995 CES has more like taken on the face and appearance of an Infomercial. And since some news places have created technology areas to be given news coverage, plus these news topic presenters try to bet each other to the punch of being first but not making sure they are 110% correct.

    CES with the modern news people today may be finding it hard to breath. When these news jerk finders figure out they can do CES better than CES does it then CES will have a wooden stake plunged into it's heart. The tech vulters will see that tech news can come any day from any one just not a shiny spot in the sand called Vegas, and it may be much less costly. Plus E-mail and e-video is like free.

  12. Brian Says:

    Wow, I feel exactly the same way. I went to CES this year, and it's my first (and last) time. I've never been so disappointed, frustrated, and depressed in my entire young life. Going to CES has actually changed my entire outlook on technology… So much to actually have me close down my tech blog and YouTube channel. Here's my blog posting on why I'm never going to CES again: http://bit.ly/elWq8f

    I've lost so much faith and interest in technology over the past 2 days that's it's quite sad. Thanks, CES.

  13. @ltamake Says:


    CES has changed my outlook on technology and I've debated closing down my site as well (but deicided against it).

  14. Anjuan Simmons Says:

    What are some of the smaller shows that happen throughout the year that should be on a technologists's "must attend" list for consumer electronics? I would definitely rather attend a show where the content of the wares is more important than the size and location of the booth.