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CES Decompression

January 16th, 2008

For a scant few hours, I was the man. The top dog. The pwner of Audioholics. Why? Show coverage. On our old site, there were a max of 5 articles on the front page – now there are twenty. On the old site, every once-in-a-while I’d have all five of the articles. With 20 on the new site I never thought it would happen. Until today. 19 show coverage articles and one editorial. For a moment, I was king.

But now that I’m done with all that and CES is officially behind me, what’s the verdict? Was CES a success? Was it the mind-blowing experience many think it ought to be? Well, let’s break it down:

From Audioholics’ standpoint, it was a success. In basically two full days the four of us (Gene, Clint, Tony, and myself) gathered all the information you see on Audioholics. There may be an article or two that trickles in as we finish unpacking (I know I’m not done) but for the most part that is it. At around 105 pages of coverage, that’s pretty good. That doesn’t count the Podcast, the live feed every night, the editorials, the rants, and the tech articles that have and will come of out it.

The Audioholics store guys were there too. They were running around to different manufacturers to nail down more products for the store. From what I heard, they were pretty successful. Like everything else in that business, it’s all smoke and mirrors until the contracts are signed but if half of the solid contacts they got pan out, you’ll be seeing some very exciting new products in the store soon including package deals making people’s first time purchases a lot easier.

From CES standpoint, was it a success? I don’t think so. We saw more and more manufacturers running out of the convention center and into the surrounding hotels. That only spells trouble in my eyes. No one cares that the high-end show is at the Venetian or Alexis Park. They’ve always been on the fringe (in more ways than one) but when D&M Holdings takes Denon, Boston, Snell, McIntosh, and Marantz to the Mandalay and Yamaha not even showing up, I think you can see what I do. Rats leaving a sinking ship.

Costs are obviously a problem (apparently hotel rooms are one of the bigger issues as are the booths) but I think the real problem is more systemic. CEA is not giving manufacturers the proper incentive to come or stay. CEDIA’s show in Denver is way more accessible with a much nicer surrounding area. There are stores and coffee shops nearby as well as camera shops and other businesses. If we needed a power strip or router at CES, you’d have to try to buy one off the floor as you’d have to take a cab to find a store off the strip. It’s nothing but restaurants, casinos, and strip-clubs. Plus our experience has been that casinos really don’t want you up in the room – they want you on the floor gambling. And frankly, that’s not what we’re here for. We need comfortable rooms with stable Internet connections. Try finding THAT in Vegas (at a reasonable price that is).

The size isn’t so much a problem for the big guys – they’re going to get noticed no matter what. But for some of the smaller companies, they really have to have an exciting product (or super-hot booth babe) to get any attention at all. I can’t tell you how many booths I walked by with raw wire or OEM speakers or some other equally unexciting product with a guy sitting in a chair reading or just staring off into space. I don’t know how much a booth like that actually costs but I’ve heard that it can easily run $10k and up! That’s a lot of money to have people walk by you! And for the big companies that need a lot of space you can easily multiply that by 5 or 10 or maybe even more (some booths like Microsoft .

From the manufacturers’ point of view, the show was probably hit or miss (if they attended at all) and it all depended on if the right employee caught the right reporter (or buyer) at the right time. If you want an example of this, look at our Panasonic coverage from this years CES compared to last years. Last year we had 5 articles – this year there was 2 and one was about a plasma you’ll never own or probably even see. Why? Last year I had someone that wanted to show me everything, this year I couldn’t have bribed someone to tell me anything. We had no idea what was new. Who’s loss? All of ours really but mostly Panasonic’s.

I’ll know that good employees are hard to find but there should be a couple of rules at these booths:

  1. No pointing at a product from across the booth
  2. No saying “I think…” You either know or you get someone that does.
  3. Do NOT attend a show without some sort of marketing material. Everyone wants it because they are going to see tens or hundreds of products over the next few days. They need a way to remember yours.
  4. You’re not serious about coverage if you haven’t put together a press kit. If you’ve printed something out, you could have burned it to a disc or USB key. Do it. Don’t argue about it. Just do it.
  5. People with press badges should be approached ASAP and talked to. If a Press person walks into your booth, you stare at him for a few seconds without approaching, and he walks out, you just missed the opportunity to have your product broadcasted to a readership of 1 million a month. Cause it was me. And I’m not waiting.
  6. Flash-based press kits will earn you nothing but wrath and contempt. And I mean it.

You may think I sound harsh and snobby but I’m really not. I’m just very, very busy. CES (and CEDIA for that matter) is a HUGE show. I’ve got tons of ground to cover and not a lot of time to do it. I want to give everyone coverage but if I stand around and have to wait for 20-40-60 minutes on one person at one booth, I’ve just missed 5-10 different manufacturers (with 1-5 products a piece) that I won’t have time to cover. It’s a triage situation. If I see a product that is super hot but no one will help me, I’ll try to cover it anyhow or to come back later. But if you are just one in the slew of manufacturers that added a 2 to the end of last year’s models and beveled the edges just a bit more, then it really isn’t worth my time.

From the standpoint of products, I wasn’t super impressed this year. The Ultra High Def displays were cool but impractical. Hitachi is the only one actually shipping a super slim flat panel and the rest were just “tech demos” which is code for “you might see this in the future… maybe… if you’re rich.” There wasn’t a large number of speakers to even see (at least on the main floor). My feeling is, however, that next year (for sure by CES but maybe by CEDIA) we’ll see some really exciting HD streaming and HDMI news. I’m hoping for more boxes like AppleTV and some sort of consumer version of the HDMI over anything but HDMI. Something self-contained. I’m also excited about the future of Blu-ray as I expect HD DVD to fade away. Will prices on players really drop? Will movies start to fall more in line with DVD prices? What will happen with those Profile 1.0 and 1.1 players as the 2.0 (BD-Live) players come to market? Will content really change or not? We’ll see.

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