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Old 01-17-2008   #1
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Default CES Trade Show Disappoints On All Fronts

If you only watch CNN or read the local newspaper, you would assume that the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas was the world's biggest, most fantastic, successful tradeshow ever. For years, CES was an AV enthusiast's dream. However, despite a home theater industry that continues to boom year after year, from the advent of VHS to today's flat HDTVs and Blu-ray players, the dotcom bust and the merger of the large computer tradeshow COMDEX into CES have left things less than perfect.

In past years, the CES tradeshow has segregated the booming home theater industry displays from the high-performance audio manufacturers. The majority of home theater displays were located in the convention center's South Hall, with the two-channel oriented audiophile displays being relegated to the pseudo-luxury low-rise hotel, The Alexis Park. The problem was always that there wasn't a clear-cut difference between specialty home theater and audiophile electronics. Dealers knew this. Consumers, when repeatedly reaching into their pockets, knew this, but for years the CES show split things up leaving tens of thousands of industry people spending increasing amounts of time bouncing from one area to another and or missing important products, displays, and people.

Today's CES is different for the specialty home theater business. The Consumer Electronic Association has focused its attention far more on computers, gadgets and hand-held devices than the home theater industry. Now, the specialty home theater and audio displays are at the more luxurious, but highly overrated, Venetian hotel on the Las Vegas strip. The displays are squeezed into the suites on the upper floor. This move wasn't made so much as to consolidate the home theater and audiophile displays, as much as it was to make room in the South Hall for anything but home theater or specialty audio displays. This CES, the second year for the Venetian as the host of specialty audio and home theater, saw many of the South Hall home theater companies taking as many as four and five conjoined suites in order to attempt to display their goods to industry types, who were literally packed into the hallways of the world's largest hotel. While still just an imitation of the days of the Alexis Park layout, the Venetian was a nightmare, complete with 30-minute waits for an elevator, and confusing layouts for the displaying companies and show attendees.

Home theater oriented companies looking to use CES to make a splash are increasingly forced to make half-assed, yet very expensive attempts to make the Venetian work for their needs. The alternative is being forced to exhibit off site. This year there were significant numbers of off-site displays at hotels like Mandalay Bay, The Mirage, The Hard Rock Hotel, as well as the five-star, Wynn. If 60 minute waits for a taxi and 30 minute waits for an elevator weren't enough, trying to book meetings to see these off-site locations added to the already impossible scope of CES. This is a view from the specialty home theater perspective of the show and ignores the large display and big-box goodies from the likes of Sony, Pioneer, Panasonic, Microsoft, Intel and other giant players who make up the displays of the Central Hall. Don't even get me started about the idea of seeing other in-hotel displays located at the Hilton Towers. The 1.75 miles walk from the South Hall to the Hilton could take as much as 30 minutes, even if you were power-walking outside and thus away from the glitzy displays of the Central and North Halls.

The fact that CES is broken is obvious to all who were in attendance, and the effect of such a large show is far-reaching. CES sets up a year's worth of products, sales and trends. CES used to be about writing orders, building industry excitement as well as forging new relationships. Today's CES is about long waits and logistics. Today's CES, is about walking into a multi-million dollar booth and not meeting anybody of significance. Today's CES is about disorganization, and because of these factors, the specialty home theater business has been, and will continue, to suffer.

The competing CEDIA tradeshow has its advantages and disadvantages over CES. CEDIA tends to keep a "small town" mentality to a show that the organizers desperately want to keep an educational show. They tried to do a builder's show in Las Vegas, but failed with that experiment. They struggle in moving from a mid-sized city, to a city looking to find a home for the booming home theater and custom installation market. What CEDIA does very right, is that they are able to lay their show floor out in a way where the entire scope of the specialty home theater market is on display in one very large room. This year's CEDIA show in Denver truly captured this scope and resulted in a very effective show. CES alluded to this concept with the South Hall displays, yet sold out the interests of many home theater-based companies so they could make space for more OEM and computer companies to create displays. The result was a total mess. Home theater companies, who have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars and years to get "seniority" for their booth positions, now have abandoned their booth designs to squeeze into a hotel room.

Suggestions For a Meaningful Solution
Seemingly always paving the way, the pornography business has the answer to the problems of the specialty AV business. This year, and perhaps last year as well, the adult industry's trade show, located mainly at the Sands Convention Center, was time-shifted to start a few days after the main CES show had started. CES kicked off for the press on Sunday and ended Thursday. If mainstream CES attendees wanted to stop buy to shop for a new butt plug, vibrating god-knows-what, or some smut on Blu-ray, they could do so assuming they had the right tickets and passes. However, the spreading out of the scope of the show helped to at least make some additional room for a tradeshow that can't seem to stop growing.

With CES totaling 140,000 attendees, the logistics are nightmarish, and hotel prices are sky high compared to normal weekday rates. It's not uncommon to see a $100 a night hotel go for $400 during CES. Food is more expensive and desperate schedules make for instances where a 15-minute limo ride for $150 might be the only way to get to an important meeting on time.

A seemingly good solution for CES is to extend the dates of the overall show, while fine-tuning the scope of their message. Ten years ago, computers, hand-helds and wireless were not anything to think about at CES and today they are amazingly relevant. Perhaps they need their own show that runs a few days during CES. Perhaps CES is too large to only be a four-day show. The CES show owes its longest standing supporters the respect of a trade show that is meaningful, well thought out and profitable. The idea of a mini-CEDIA in the South Hall is still relevant, but if the room isn't available then looking at other locations like the now non-official location of Mandalay Bay is a good one. Their convention center space is luxurious and voluminous as it already hosts D&M Holdings (Denon, Marantz, Boston etc) JVC, Philips and others. Their tower suites would allow for some specialty audio companies to set-up with more intimate displays, while home theater companies would have plenty of room to go big in the convention center without show-goers having to endure the insult of 30 minute waits for an elevator. Specialty AV people could have facilities to do and see everything they need in style and without grief. There is even an outdoor room that can be used for more displays as they show grows.

The importance of CES is huge for the AV industry and far beyond, but the show is badly broken. If the CEA doesn't address the scope and issues relating to the show, it will likely fracture from its own weight and flaws. There is no need for that to happen with the right fixes, but without question, serious and meaningful solutions must be put into place quickly.

Unfortunately, when people ask me "what did you see at CES that really impressed you this year?" the best answer I can come up with is, "the size of the line for the monorail."

by: Jerry Del Colliano
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