CES The Show We Love To Hate
Opinion Features

Why The Smart People Don’t Go To CES     

I’ll be at CES (the big Consumer Electronic Show) next year, which given the title of this post, doesn’t exactly reflect well on me. Here is the problem with the event. It focuses far too much on quantity over quality, it comes too early in the year for a good showcase of coming products, it exemplifies practices which could be catastrophic to careers and brands, and it is less diverse than a high school Football team. Unless you are a really big company, rising above the noise is almost impossible and, even if you do, you get a couple of minutes before everyone focuses on the next announcement.

I don’t think the show has to be this way, but I was on the advisory committee for Comdex and that show didn’t end well. Let’s talk about why Smart People Don’t Go To CES.

Quantity Over Quality

Even at Las Vegas there likely needs to be a maximum size to any show largely because, after a certain point, you can’t physically get around the place and CES exceeds that point every year. A lot of the problem is with Las Vegas which has far more physical event capacity than it has the traffic handling capability to deal with it. Typically, the roads grid lock early in the show, the monorail system (which was designed by an idiot) reaches overcapacity, and walking becomes your only way around with each walk being measured in miles not feet.

Most booths are taken up with folks that have products that should likely not be at a big show and most of the smart major vendors set up their own venues away from formal CES event. This allows them to better control their message but this also increases the problem of physically getting around significantly. At the very least there needs to be a far better way to move people between the two at capacity convention centers the event uses predominantly.

Stupid Practices

The level of sexist practices is, given the current environment, exceedingly dangerous. These begin with the use of booth babes to bring in traffic, something that has gotten out of hand in the past, and end with arranging “dates” for buyers. Las Vegas may not have an issue with this, but this practice not only violates a whole host of typical company policies, it may violate many federal laws and, were it outed, would likely result in an executive purge. This practice, which is far more common than most realize, is incredibly dangerous now where there is little tolerance for behaviors that are seen by many as sexist and abusive yet there is every likelihood it will again be common at the event, and it remains expected by many of the buyers.

Gifts to some foreigners and to some classes of buyer (medical professionals for instance) require disclosure and these sexual perks would certainly fall under these disclosure rules yet, I expect, due to the nature of the “perk” they aren’t being disclosed. The right Tweet could fix that albeit catastrophically.

Male Dominated

The show lacks any semblance of diversity. It is portrayed as a “consumer” electronics show but it seems to ignore that slightly more than half of these consumers are women. The buyers are predominantly male which is why it has such a well-established reputation for sexism, this is even though historically the show operations are largely run by women. It is financially successful, but this male dominance significantly reduces the benefits received by the vendors who display at the show and leads to some of the stupid behaviors I’ve listed above.

The Presentations Mostly Suck

There is a real difference between a presentation that has clear customer focused goals and one where the goal appears to be just filling time. CES is hardly the only event with this problem but the folks selected to present are not only predominantly male, but they typically set a low bar for presentation quality. Panels tend to lack any drama at all and are mostly sequential presentations by panelists who don’t see each other outside of the panels. The result can be very dull and rarely move the bar about new information. Too many seem to just rehash the same stuff year over year and while there are some great speakers, they tend to be overwhelmed by the bad ones and largely remain the exception not the rule.

There Are Some Interesting Products

Despite these there are some interesting products sprinkled throughout the show. The problem is finding them in an ocean of junk. Most products would probably be better, and by better, I mean more cost effectively, sold in a far more focused venue. This is one of the reasons for bad practices like booth babes, these vendors need to gain booth traffic, but their wares aren’t attractive to most buyers, so they need some other way to make it look like they are getting interest. It just isn’t interest in the product, but interest in the eye candy, and that rarely results in sales; unless you are in the porn industry.

Wrapping Up: Fixing CES

They should limit vendors to the number that fits into one convention center until there is a viable way to move large numbers of people between convention centers. There should be a major effort to bring in a more diverse pool of buyers and to stop practices that would reflect badly on the event, attending vendors, buyers, and attendees. There needs to be a far larger focus on quality over quantity particularly in speaker and panel content. Finally, the date for this event should be shifted to a time that is more conducive to a show like this so that the vendors don’t lose their holidays and they have more new products that are ready to show and pitch.

Let me close with several final thoughts. The smart vendors tend to both pre-brief folks under NDA on what they are going to launch to ensure ink and have venues that are off the show floor, so they aren’t fighting traffic or having to shout over other vendors’ pitches. They get that buyers who want to meet with them will find them, that if they are easier to get to they will get more buyers, and that if they can control the environment they can better hold interest and control the message.

And I have every belief, that given the current environment, that at least one major vendor will be laid low for getting “dates” for buyers and getting caught doing it. As a result, this CES may be one to watch, though likely for the wrong things…