The Consumer Electronics Show, one of the largest and best-known trade shows in the world, is next week, Jan. 5-8 in Las Vegas. With more than 182,000 attendees in 2020, and nearly 4,500 exhibitors, it’s a bellwether event for innovation and for show producers everywhere, many of whom are full-scale media companies.
It’s a litmus test for the success of their own events.
Now, the January 2022 CES is hitting an extraordinarily rough patch. Just days before the event, exhibitors are dropping out, and attendees are struggling with whether they want to go through the ordeal of airports, sitting on planes, and participating in a giant indoor event.
CES has hit a perfect storm of a record-breaking surge in COVID cases, centered on the highly contagious Omicron variant, combined with the likelihood that it will worsen over the next two weeks.
Just yesterday, the U.S. hit a record-breaking number of new cases, with a seven-day average of 265,427 new cases on Tuesday, blowing past the previous record of about 252,000 daily cases, reported nearly a year ago. The new peak, according to CNN, comes amid a rapid acceleration of infections in the United States — and across the world‚ since last month.
Already, dozens of CES exhibitors have canceled in-person appearances, including T-Mobile, Microsoft, Google, Intel, AMD, OnePlus, Google and Lenovo. “The health and well-being of our employees is our ultimate priority,” Microsoft said in a statem ent to CNet. “After reviewing the latest data on the rapidly evolving COVID environment, Microsoft has decided not to participate in-person at CES 2022.”
Because of the global COVID pandemic, CES 2021 was a full virtual event.
Even though CES will require proof of vaccination for all participants, and recommends a negative test within 24 hours of entering the hall, things have gotten so bad for 2022 that Gary Shapiro, the CEO of CES parent organization the Consumer Technology Association, wrote an op-ed in the Las Vegas Review-Journal saying: CES “will and must go on.”
CES has a pinned tweet on its Twitter page that says: “Over 2,200 companies are confirmed to participate in person at CES 2022 in Las Vegas. Our focus remains on convening the tech industry and giving those who cannot attend in person the ability to experience the magic of CES digitally.”
In his commentary, Shapiro said CTA believes passionately that innovation and technology will make a better world. Technology and innovation solves some of the biggest problems in health, energy, mobility, the environment and more, he wrote. CES is the world’s largest innovation event, Shapiro said, with thousands of people coming from around the world.
“Innovation can come from anywhere and anybody, and we must respect and encourage that,” Shapiro said. “More than 80% of our membership is smaller companies. These companies and these founders are the ones I think of when I say it’s not time to pull the plug on CES 2022.”
Still, he noted, the show organizers face a tough choice.
“If we cancel the show, we will hurt thousands of smaller companies, entrepreneurs and innovators who have made investments in building their exhibits and are counting on CES for their business,” he said. “If we do not cancel, we face the drumbeat of press and other critics who tell the story only through their lens of drama and big-name companies.”
CTA, Shapiro continued, understands concerns that CES could become a super-spreader event. “We are leading the way in requiring masks and vaccines, recommending testing and offering free tests,” he wrote. “We respect that some do not want to take the risk involved in travel to Las Vegas, even in the vaccinated bubble of CES. But with significant safety measures and fewer people, there is plenty of space for attendees to socially distance.”
One thing is certain: Show organizers everywhere will be watching CES to make decisions about their own events, large and small, for the next several months.