The world’s biggest tech program will be an all-digital experience due to COVID-19 issues.

Video Elephant

The CES program, the biggest trade event in the United States and the leading yearly conference of the tech market, will not be welcoming the general public in January, as prepared, due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Instead, the organizers state they’re going all-digital, with a number of days of online home entertainment prepared for Jan. 6-9, 2021. 

Good luck with that. 

As a long time guest, with more years of participation than I care to confess, I believe the chances of success here are really difficult. Yes, we can commit 3 days of our lives to getting to Las Vegas and wandering the program flooring. It’s a lot more difficult to do it in front of a computer system for hours. 

CES constantly draws in substantial crowds (Photo: Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY)

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That stated, can CES placed on a fantastic program that individuals would wish to tune into? 

Most certainly yes. 

Naturally, I have some concepts. 

Let’s start with why we go to CES in the very first location. To see the cool brand-new items being presented, to be wowed by them and to get a sense for where the market is headed this year. 

There’s likewise great deals of talk. Lots of go to CES market officer keynotes and panel conversations. However let’s face it: Many of the LinkedIn generation go to panels to network, wanting to meet leading market experts in the space, and the keynotes are much of the exact same. A little education, but also schmoozing. 

So if CES hopes to replicate the experience by offering more online webinars and panel discussions, I don’t see myself taking three days off from work to watch the online show. 

But what about a really great, highly produced online presentation that truly showcased new products? 

Now that would be must-see streaming. 

As I said, I go to CES to see what’s new. What was so hard about CES was that as so many other conferences fell off by the wayside over the years (Comdex, MacWorld, etc.) CES became the one show that – love it or hate it – most everyone in tech attended. 

And it became so big and bloated that with 175,000 people crowding the halls, just getting from point A to point B was a constant challenge. It had so many exhibitors that it was tough to see all the booths in one convention hall, let alone the satellite facilities that sprung up all over town. 

And with so many people in Las Vegas, it could take upwards of an hour just to get a cab to visit one of the other facilities. 

So I love the idea of ditching those logistics. 

Put on an amazing show

Apple showed with its online presentation for the Worldwide Developers Conference in June that it could be done, and done really well. But that’s Apple, which does things its way. Those high-profile yearly product reveals are million-dollar TV shows meant to live on, for the online audience.

So take what Apple has done, and apply it to CES. Sounds cool, right? 

But what happens if CES is calling the shots, and telling Samsung, LG, Sony, TCL and so many of the long-time exhibitors how it wants to present the showcase to viewers? 

I can tell you from experience that the CES presentations from these companies generally last an hour at least, with a good 30 minutes devoted to self-congratulations and executive ego shining. A good CES producer will want to focus just on what’s new and let us really see the products. And to ditch the chatter. 

Can CES convince the companies to do it right? 

I could see a CES devote two to three hours daily to highly produced product demos, and perhaps an hour of market chatter. I could imagine an hour show devoted to CES’s annual Innovation Awards, where the Consumer Technology Association selects winners in many categories that it deems worthy of showcasing. 

But let’s not forget that most of what we see at CES is junk. It’s old products masquerading as new, or new things with no hope of ever getting actually released. In my years at CES, I’ve seen smart shoes, smart bras, smart shirts, smart everything. When’s the last time you wore your smart shirt? 

But occasionally, something fun comes out of the startup space. 


What does it do about all the tiny start-ups that come to Las Vegas every year, hoping Lady Luck will rub on them, that some buyer from Walmart, Target or somewhere else takes the time to stop, miraculously puts in a order and gets the product on the map? (This indeed happened for Ring, which brought its product to CES on a card table, found a buyer and later got bought by Amazon for $1 billion.)

OK, the startups get a show, too. 

And this is where CES Digital could actually improve on being there in person. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked to an exhibitor about their product, and asked for a demo, only to have them tell me it was just a “prototype.” 

Like the drone that you tossed in the air like a frisbee and it somehow started flying, without any controls. (It was never released.) Or last year’s flying car announcement from Hyundai. 

OK, big mouths. You have an announcement and a breakthrough? Show me! Prove it. You have the video floor. I can’t wait to watch. 

Now add in in a few keynotes, however only if they have big names (i.e., people we want to hear from), or dive into hot-button topics that make for riveting entertainment. You know, like “Should Big Tech Be Reigned In? Facebook faces off with government regulators.” Or, “Does TikTok deserve to be banned in the United States?” Stuff like that. Zoom sessions with a bite. 

CES has its work cut out for it. Because there’s nothing like being there in person, asking questions, meeting people, seeing the products for yourself. 

But, I’ll be the first one to tune in to a truly incredible showcase of worthy brand-new items and industry chatter. I have to. It’s my job. 

However wouldn’t you, too?

Follow USA TODAY’s Jefferson Graham (@jeffersongraham) on Twitter

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