CES is Down but Not Out

The biggest news out of the Consumer Electronics Show ( CES ) did not involve a new product or cutting-edge technology, but the economy’s impact on show’s attendance. Yes, it was a down year for the CES, but did it really “show?” To me, the event still felt “busy,” even if it lacked the frenzy of most every other yea
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The biggest news out of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) did not involve a new product or cutting-edge technology, but the economy’s impact on the show’s attendance. Yes, it was a down year for the CES, but did it really “show?”

To me, the event still felt “busy,” even if it lacked the frenzy of most every other year I’ve attended since 1997. But, it comes as no great surprise that the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), the host of CES, reported its unaudited attendance at about 110,000 people, which is down from an audited 141,000 in 2008. According to the association, the 110,000-attendee number is likely to change in 90 days because of an internal audit done by the CEA. Last year, CEA added more than 10,000 attendees to their totals after their audit.

After getting home late on Saturday night, I spent Sunday after CES at my daughter’s third birthday party answering family and friends when they asked me about the next big thing in consumer electronics. To get off the hook I mentioned just a couple bits that caught my eye: even flatter video screens (watch JVC for a magnetic LCD monitor that was shown as a prototype) and high-quality wireless adapter technology for home theater speakers that has been designed by the co-inventor of the HDMI standard and endorsed by THX (watch for a new company called Radiient Technologies). I’ll be covering these developing technologies more in the future, but keep your eyes on them.

From a CEDIA perspective, CES was even more inconsequential than ever before. A couple of companies with whom I was planning to visit, cancelled at the last minute, meaning that they probably won’t be back at all next year unless they choose to exhibit in the new EHX wing at the Sands Convention Center, where priority points aren’t a priority. Despite the lack of every major in-wall speaker manufacturer at the show, however, several screens manufacturers, most AV mounts companies, Lutron, and a fair number of high-end speaker manufacturers, and every mass-market video display manufacturer filled my schedule quite easily. The show was not a waste of my time, though it will never return to the level of importance that CEDIA EXPO holds in our market.

A couple companies with integration connections (no pun intended) did offer concepts that could have very broad market appeal and expand the business. One was relative upstart Control4, which I actually happy to see is stronger than ever. Admittedly I thought the down economy would kill a company like Control4, which has focused on low-cost, entry-level integrator since day one. On the contrary, Will West's operation appears to be going gangbusters with an impressive collection of big-name manufacturers in its "Partner Pavilion" and hints from West that his company may become the partners of choice for several utility companies as they unroll mandatory HVAC integration packages to their customers within the next couple years. The impact of these deals may be boatloads of "attachment sales" for Control4 dealers in the future.

The other notable news came from the Renaissance Hotel, where ADT and control software platform provider, iControl, offered details of their security integration package partnership. The concept, according to iControl's VP of marketing Greg Roberts, is to expand the security market (which reaches only 20-24 percent of U.S. homes at this moment) into interactive services based on Z-Wave and Wi-Fi technology. These new and retrofitted systems would have traditional monitored security systems at their core, but which the addition of iControl's iHub, would connect via Ethernet to a home router, adding IP remote access, IP cameras, lighting control, HVAC control, and doorlock control, just for starters. The solution would give ADT customers a low-cost integration option, provide ADT with a little more cache, and offer security installers a chance to to get more creative while they're in a client's home.

So even though CES was far from a waste of time, a question remained in many of our minds: are trade shows worth the money anymore? On the flight home I had a conversation with an exhibitor who recalled the days when CES was an order-writing show. That has changed completely, and now most trade shows are networking events and marketing blitzes. Are we better served by the Internet and smaller regional events, where companies aren’t forced into carnival barker-like tactics to get our attention on a crowded show floor? Trade shows won’t go away anytime soon, but given their cost and the current (on-going) state of the economy, they sure seem like an expensive question mark.

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