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Saturday, January 10, 2009

CES 09 Overview - Part 1

Another year, another Consumer Electronics Show (CES). For my readers who are unfamiliar with the event, this is the largest gathering of manufacturers, retailers, reps, and wholesalers of consumer electronics items in the world. In past years, this annual Las Vegas-based show was a must-attend for anyone even remotely connected to the industry, but given the economy, this year the show was one of lowered expectations.

That being said, I found the show to be well worth the 3 1/2 hour drive out from LA despite the general view before the show. The following is the first of 4 reports on what I observed.

First of all for those of you who've never attended, this is a huge show just in terms of the physical space that it takes up. It encompasses the entire Las Vegas Convention Center and more, with automotive electronics in the North Hall, the large CE manufactures like Sony, Panasonic, Toshiba and Samsung in the Center Hall, personal electronics and accessories on the top floor of the South Hall and audio and home theater oriented products on the bottom floor of the South Hall. But that's not all - out in the parking lot there's a number of temporary tents for manufacturers like Gibson (wonder why they're even at this show?) and Motorolla.

But there's more -
the Sands Convention Center hosted miscellaneous electronics (more on this later), and on floors 28, 29, and 30 of the Venetian Tower is high-end audio. There's also something in the Hilton Convention Center but I 'm not sure what since I never got there this year. Yes, it's a big show indeed!

----I should have known something was up with Vegas when I noticed that about half the billboards outside of the city were blank, even the new electronic ones. Some had available signs on them; some just left vacant.

----Then the next thing that struck me as I drove near Vegas was the smog. There's a ring around the town comprised of layers of black, brown and green. Reminds me of LA before the 90's. Of course, this can't be healthy for you, but neither is gambling or partying.

Vegas Smog

----Once I got into Vegas, I was amazed at how dead it was. It usually takes about 45 minutes to get from the Strip to the Convention Center due to the large influx of people and the resultant traffic. This year - 5 minutes. In fact, Vegas was like a ghost town. No one in the casinos, no one in the restaurants, no one on the streets. There's trouble in paradise.

----When I arrived at the parking lot next to the LVCC, it was half-empty. Last year it was full by 10AM and I had to park in a casino parking lot. Plenty of room this time. Not a good sign.

----The show attendance was down as well - a lot from what I could tell. I estimate about 25%. It was actually kind of nice. Not a lot of people and no pushing and shoving. In fact, by 5PM the LVCC started to feel like 5PM on the last day of the show instead of the first. It was a ghost town. I felt sorry for the vendors. It was also really easy to leave town at 6PM. Just normal traffic to deal with.

The Show Floor At 5PM

----The South Hall took the biggest hit in terms of open booths. There were a lot of booths that were obviously sold but the manufacturers just decided not to show. There was a lot of empty floor space in general.

----That didn't apply to the high-end audio exhibits in the Venetian, which were actually pretty busy. Go figure. I liked it over there. It felt like an old fashioned hi-fi show from the 70's.

Some general show observations:
  • The last couple of years the focus was on wireless. Everywhere you looked, you saw wireless technology touted as the main feature by just about every manufacturer. This year the theme was "connected". All personal electronics used the fact that they were connected to the internet as their most prominent feature. Most TV's, toasters, clock radios, underwear (kidding), you name it; connected to the internet.
  • A couple of mini-trends. soundwear - clothing that has earbuds built-in as an integral part of the garment. Electronic health and fitness - CO2 monitors built into cameras and watches, electronic pill minders, personal blood pressure indicators, etc. For some reason, more manufacturers offered massage chairs than I thought would be at a show like this.
  • And speaking as a person who's spent a good deal of my life as a pro musician, the most disturbing of all - just about every booth had Rock Band or Guitar Hero games playing, many to show off the built-in gaming capabilities of new television products, some just to attract a crowd. I guess it's fun, but if kids spent as much time learning to play an instrument for real as they do playing these video games, we'd have some great up and coming players.

A Rock Band Contest
To disgusted to note the booth

A Breath Of Fresh Air.
A real player versus a gamer. The real guy kicked his ass!
  • The vibe of the show was pretty doom and gloom. As my friend Marty observed, "This show has no energy!" Most people were there because they had to, not because they wanted to (except for me, of course).
Lots more to talk about the show. Next post will be about the latest in televisions.


2 comments:

Don D said...

As an economic indicator, this is especially unsettling.

Part of the implosion could be due to the advancing life-cycle of the CE segment. Remember how VSDA and E3, once major events, were eventually lost to the maturation and consolodation of the home video and gaming businesses?

But the speed and scope of this collapse is truly depressing.

And the casino owners must be shitting poker chips. If CES can't pack Vegas, what can?

Phil Lelyveld said...

I loved that I could move quickly through the halls because the crowds were way down. The TV news said 130,000 attendees, but I'd be surprised if there were more than 70,000.
I discussed the low turnout with a few people there. The best thought I heard was that CES is now where Comdex was just before its collapse. The idea of "CE" has become so broad and diluted that it isn't clear what CES's focus is. It may splinter into sub-genre conferences or simply go virtual.
And how do you get to Las Vegas in 3 1/2 hrs.!? The best I've ever done is 4 1/2 hrs., including a snack/stretch stop.

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