There may be fewer hordes of people walking the show floor at CES this year, and many fewer advertising executives swarming the halls of the C Space at the Aria Resort in Las Vegas.
But, according to attendees on the ground, that might actually be a good thing.
The scaled-down conference is still quite large, with roughly 2,200 exhibitors and thousands of people flying in from around the globe to experience the newest tech gadgets and innovations that will set consumer trends for the year to come.
In pre-pandemic years, CES had almost double the number of exhibitors, and attendance is expected to be markedly down from the 170,000 or so people who showed up in 2020. Major tech companies, specifically those important to advertisers (i.e., Google, Facebook, Amazon, Snap, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.) suspended their in-person presences over fears of the rapidly spreading Omicron variant.
As a result, at the C Space in the Aria Resort — the center of gravity for the advertising industry at CES — there are fewer familiar faces than in years past, said Dave Morgan, CEO of Simulmedia. As of Tuesday evening, fewer trade booths were being set up. The Ironwood Terrace, where WPP normally posts up, was empty. The C Space registration booth, usually plastered with ad tech and media branding, had a lone sponsorship from Samba TV.
By Wednesday morning, when CES kicked off in earnest, the Aria was “buzzing” with people attending a talk about NFTs, Morgan said. But the crowd was still lacking many familiar media and ad tech faces.
“The New York and LA media mafia that would have otherwise been here at a huge level are not here, and I don’t expect to see them,” Morgan said.
That might be a result of the New York-centric media bubble. In late December, the Omicron variant took New York City by siege, sending cases and hospitalisations soaring. The surge still has not yet hit its expected peak.
But according to Ray Wang, founder, chairman and principal analyst at Constellation Research, CES is filled with attendees from other U.S. cities as well as international guests from places including Japan, Korea, France and Latin America.
“It’s very regional,” he said. “[People from] New York, San Francisco, LA, Seattle are all scared and shut down. The rest of the country is like, ‘I don’t know what you guys are talking about.’”
Normally at CES, attendees connect with hundreds of people over the course of a few days. But because of the sheer volume of people there, many of those meetings are superficial or involve people who are easy to meet with back home.
Without as much noise on the ground, it’s easier to meet with the consumer tech companies, check out their booths and have more interesting, in-depth conversations. For Morgan, for instance, whose company is focused on connected TV, meeting with TV manufacturers is extremely valuable, as opposed to spending time with “all the media people I’d see in other places,” he said.
“What happens to the TV device is now becoming enormously important,” he said. “It’s affecting the ad business because it’s a whole new point of distribution. My meetings are almost entirely with device and gaming-related companies.”
For Wang, who already met with the CEO of Canon and a team from John Deere, less noise means more opportunities for meaningful connections. He’s already hearing interesting rumblings about the metaverse, which is displaying its first signs of becoming a real industry and topic for marketers at this year’s show.
“When everyone [else] isn’t going is the best time to go, because you can sit down and meet with people,” he said. “There are still tons of people here. It’s not empty, but it’s not massively full.”
Plus, there’s less traffic, shorter lines and more opportunities to touch and feel new innovations. “All of the fluff is gone; that’s the best part,” Wang added. “It is much more valuable because fewer people showed up.”
Much of the appeal of going to CES is networking, and for those in the advertising industry, evenings are typically packed with happy hours, parties and after-parties where professionals can kick back and have organic conversations and casual moments.
While most of the big flashy parties were canceled (including iHeartMedia’s concert featuring Swedish House Mafia and MediaLink’s opening night party and executive dinner), people are still connecting over happy hours and client dinners that are smaller and more focused.
“We won’t see nearly the big parties with the same people we always see,” Morgan said. “You have to find those more focused around key pockets of interest.”
The future of the tentpole
While the show is certainly still on, CES hasn’t turned out to be the big return to live events the ad industry expected. So what does that mean for the future of massive-scale tentpoles?
Morgan likens it to the evolution of the TV marketplace.
“In the old days, there were a couple of really big tentpole events around how you bought [TV], like the upfront. You had to do those things and you had to take it as it happened. If you weren’t there, you missed everything,” he said.
In the future, industry events will be more flexible and roll out on a smaller scale, he added. “The really big ones that take a lot of pre-planning, I’m not saying those events go away, but they will be less central for companies who don’t need to be there.”
For Wang, what’s important is that CES moved forward with the live event so people can make their own choices.
“There is still a role for big events,” he said. “Some will do better than others. CES is one of them. But in general, people want to get together.
(This article first appeared on CampaignLive.com)
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