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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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Old 01-17-2008   #2
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Default Re: CES Trade Show Disappoints On All Fronts

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Originally Posted by AVRevForum.com View Post
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.

With CES totaling 140,000 attendees, the logistics are nightmarish, and hotel prices are sky high compared to normal weekday rates.

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
I HATE CES. It's a stupid over-crowded event. By the time you get to the booth you're interested in chances are extremely high that anyone worth a damn to talk to for that company has run off to hide from the 139,500 people they aren't there to see.

CEDIA on the other hand is much easier to move around. You also can run into just about anyone at a booth. At the Martin Logan booth it is not uncommon to see "Ty Webb," there for instance. You rarely have to deal with PR people and can talk directly to the President of most companies.

CEDIA also allows for much better auditioning of equipment in some circumstances.

In fact I can't think of a bad thing about CEDIA in comparison.

Vegas has its share of shows. CES is my least favorite. I've always been a fan of ShoWest for instance. That Event is a lot easier to navigate and again it's fairly easy to talk to the people you need to talk to.

CEDIA has the plus that it's for CEDIA members and store owners only. It's not open to the public (although some get in but not a lot).
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Old 01-17-2008   #3
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Default Re: CES Trade Show Disappoints On All Fronts

Well said Jerry....

Even thought my main focus at CES is meeting with computer OEMs, I spend weeks fine tuning my schedule so that my meetings are all in the Central hall on day one, The South hall on day two - off site meetings on day three and try to sneak in a few minutes at the hotel from hell know as the Venetian to sneak in a few peaks at the Audio gear.

At the end of the 4 days I managed to weave my way through the tangled mess of people to meet with all my vendors and the only things I got to see were what ever was in the path between them. And having to pay a limo an outrageous amount to get me from point a to point b in time for a meeting was INFURIATING!

Between the cost of the rooms and the ridiculous amounts of time spent getting between meetings, the enjoyment of CES is long gone.
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Old 01-18-2008   #4
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Default Re: CES Trade Show Disappoints On All Fronts

While I never made it to CES in those bygone days Jerry speaks of, I too feel it is just to big to manage. Moving at what we thought was a quick pace Andrew Robinson and I barely completed the two main floors in the Venetian and that was with bypassing many rooms along the way. Forget about the Center and South halls!

Jerry is again spot on about the relevance, just go to the center hall and find someone other than an information drone there, hell, many of them weren't even that well informed of they're products at the larger booths.

I too prefer the cozy nature of CEDIA and feel CES has become more for showing off to the media than serving the industry, at CEDIA I can walk into the Krell booth and talk with Dan D'Agostino or visit Meridian and ask Bob Stuart for his thought on HD DVD. While we did get similar contact at many of the Venetian rooms, finding relevant people like these in the larger convention center displays just didn't seem realistic. I think even if Panasonic's reps were there, by the time you navigated around that massive display and found them, your day would be over.

I look forward to CEDIA, and dread CES...... Both are fun in their own way, but I feel CES has grown to Trantorian proportions and is doomed to fail if it doesn't size down or split up as Jerry says to make it more relevant.
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Old 01-18-2008   #5
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Default Re: CES Trade Show Disappoints On All Fronts

It sounds like you are all in favor of a split.
When the video game industry split from CES for E3 it was a huge success (too good as it turned out!), do you think Home Theater should split off into it's own show or maybe audio & home theater?

I do agree these shows should be trade & media only, E3 hurt itself by letting almost anyone in & the costs for the companies got way out of hand leading to the new format "E For All" that is much smaller.

Home Theater is huge now & could easily have a stand alone show & that would make it easier for media to see everything they want to report on & not have to "skip a few rooms" to see just the big boys when the next big thing could be sitting in one of those bypassed rooms.

I myself have never been to one of there mega shows but when I'm shopping for new gear (when am I not! LOL) I depend on the people from sites like this to give me the information I need in the rapidly changing world of Home theater & audio.
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Old 01-18-2008   #6
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Default Re: CES Trade Show Disappoints On All Fronts

Moose,

You would love these shows! Just be ready to leave with about twenty pieces of gear you 'need' in mind! I have a real problem not bringing things home with me.....
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