Maybe They Should Call It the Compact Electronics Show

Why an incredible shrinking CES might be a good thing.

By  |  Monday, December 1, 2008 at 6:55 pm

ceslogoFor tech journalists, the busiest week of all is the first full one of the year. It starts with San Francisco’s Macworld Expo, which involves a whole lot of hoopla about a handful of products (Apple ones, naturally). And then it segues into the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, at which no single product will receive a hundredth of the attention reaped by Apple’s Macworld news. But at CES there are thousands of new products, from nearly every company in the industry except Apple. The show packs Vegas to the rafters, and attendees fill just about every hotel room in the city.

cesshrinkingOr so they have for many years–especially after Comdex, once the nation’s biggest tech trade show, went to the great convention center in the sky after its 2003 edition. But with a little more than a month to go until CES 2009 and the economy in tatters, there are rumblings that the show’s hypergrowth may have stalled. CNBC’s Jim Goldman is reporting that the Consumer Electronics Association, which runs the show, is saying that this year’s version will be down from 2008 and 2007 in terms of floor space. It’s not saying whether it’ll be down a little or a lot. But hotel room rates, which have been gougingly high in recent years, are coming down this time around–a sure sign that fewer conventioneers are planning to make the pricey trek to the desert.

Anecdotally, a lot of the folks I see every year at CES are telling me that they won’t be there this year…and not one of them seems griefstricken at the prospect of missing it. That’s not a good sign for the show’s health: Comdex managed the incredible feat of going from being the country’s largest trade show of any sort to irrelevance and death in just a few years in part because people disliked attending it and discovered that they didn’t have to. I’m kind of assuming that the CES bubble will burst in similar fashion someday; I don’t know if this will be the year it happens, but it’s worth noting that external forces (the 2000 stock market meltdown and 9/11) probably hastened Comdex’s demise.

Me, I’m still looking forward to the trip to CES–when I worked at PC World I tended to spend most of the show holed up in a PCW conference suite at the Las Vegas Hilton, but this year I figure I’ll be able to roam around and actually see stuff. I’ve always said the only thing I’d find more stressful than attending CES is not attending CES; I hope I still feel that way after next month’s show.

And hey, a slightly smaller, more managable CES might be more enjoyable and productive. Even if only .000001% of the items at the show are a big whoop, I’ll have plenty of stuff to report on here at Technologizer…


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7 Comments For This Post

  1. Keith Shaw Says:

    I’m heading to the show in January reluctantly, and will try to approach it much differently than in past years. Reductions in travel budgets and the sense of being overwhelmed led me to seriously consider not going this time around. I’m definitely cutting back on the length of time I’m planning on being there – I’m only going from Wednesday to Saturday, leaving Saturday morning. In previous years I’d be there all week, but since the show starts on a Thursday and runs through the weekend, I’m getting out before the weekend kicks in (Vegas on the weekend is a nightmare). With the amount of work that tech journalists are being asked (or required, or just doing on their own) to do, such as blogging, podcasting, videos, and now Twittering, CES this year will likely be a 24/7 proposition (I plan on Twittering from the press events and any parties (ha!) that I end up at). That’s enough to make me want to have an even shorter trip. Still, despite all that, I look forward to CES to find things that I haven’t seen before, to see where the market is headed and to catch up with colleagues that I only seem to meet at press events or trade shows.

  2. notebookscom Says:

    I’m going, but think that a lot of exhibits are a big waste. A few of the PR folks pitching me for booth interviews have already told me they have nothing new being announced at the show because there’s too much

  3. kosmonautbruce Says:

    My company is still going, although pretty heavily downsized from previous years. Who knows, maybe a smaller, leaner show will actually be manageable and more enjoyable. Glass half full and all…

  4. Tara Dunion Says:

    Harry: We look forward to seeing you at the 2009 CES. In this tough economy, events like CES are more important than ever for networking and new business. Our attendees have an average of 12 meetings at CES which saves them the time and money of having 12 seperate meetings, with buyers, manufacturers, content industry executives, media and VCs, outside of CES. CES Unveiled kicks things off on Tuesday the 6th, and Press Day is Wed. the 7th. Please let me know if I can assist you with your CES coverage. Tara

  5. Steve Wildstrom Says:

    Right now I’m leaning against going. Actually, the fact that the show seems destined to shrink makes it more attractive; for the last couple of years, the sheer hassle of getting anything done at CES, even moving from the Main Hall to the South Hall of the LVCC, has made the experience nothing but frustration. Fortunately, the fact that lots of hotel rooms are still available makes a last-minute decision possible. The problem is that the show just doesn’t look very exciting this year.

  6. Dave Barnes Says:

    Some of us are old enough to remember the rise and fall of NCC.
    At look back at

  7. Harry McCracken Says:

    I never went to NCC, but I did go to a couple of big computer shows at Boston’s old Hynes Auditorium in, um, maybe 1980 and 1981? They were full of dealers selling Apple II and TRS-80 software on tape in Ziploc bags; I remember that Adventure International’s Scott Adams had a huge booth designed to look like a castle, and that there was an R2D2-like “robot” (remote-controlled by a guy in the crowd) providing entertainment. I also want to say that the Creative Computing folks were there se3lling books, back issues, and T-shirts. And I just remembered a panel discussion with Adam Osborne and the Boston Computer Society’s Jonathan Rotenberg, among others. Good times…


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