Can Small Innovators Take Center Stage at CES?

I’ve just returned from Las Vegas where, as an analyst, I attended the largest International Consumer Electronics Show ever. Having walked not only the 1.92 million square feet, or 37 football fields, of exhibition space but also the 1.6 miles between the Venetian and the LVH Convention Center every day, it quickly became apparent that it was going to be impossible for me to get to see all of the 3,250 exhibitors with their 20,000 new products.

In an exhibition of this size, three very different methods of announcing products and demonstrating innovation have had to evolve. The first approach that flagship brands adopt is to create a “wow factor” for their product reveal to keep it top of mind. Here the product is placed center stage on massive booths, features at the center of elaborate and expensive keynotes, and is the focus of high visibility “invite only” press launches and parties, examples of which have been hitting mainline media all week.

The second method of product announcement is to facilitate one of the many closed door discussions that take place in ritzy hotel suites across Vegas; high ranking company execs are ferried back and forth to meetings by retained limos, and a bizarre and almost ritualistic protocol determines who meets with whom, according to status. Whatever the end result, these movers and shakers have a full dance card for the entire time they are in Vegas and have little or no opportunity to see the third, and in some ways most interesting, type of product exhibition.

Here an ecosystem of small domestic and international manufacturers and innovators prevails. Their products and developments are displayed in the hope that the right buyer, scout, analyst or media representative will serendipitously stumble upon them. These displays are not the fancy booths of the larger players but are instead the pop-ups you find at the Venetian or the periphery stands in the big halls of LVH through which, sore feet allowing, you sometimes wander.

So if innovation is at the heart of CES, as their press release suggests, then maybe a rethink of the conference and exhibition format is needed in order to expose this tertiary ecosystem of small innovators, and enable them to become the powerhouse of growth for tomorrow’s consumer electronics industry.

Steve Bell, President, KeySo Global   

For additional perspectives on this year’s CES contact me at steve.bell@keysoglobal.com or at 847-478-1633. Visit our website at www.keysoglobal.com

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