Business H/W

Oh God it’s CES again

Hey anyone going to CES Las Vegas?

The list of exhibitors at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas extends to 125 pages with 27 companies named on the front page. That’s a lot of exhibitors.

You wonder who goes. Most media organisations with a tech section send someone. It’s probably mostly journalists plus exhibitors looking at each others’ stands if my experience of trade shows is anything to go by. The official blurb says 150,000 = 160,000 visitors and over 3,600 stands. That’s around 40 visitors per stand. Some exhibitors will send more people than that (I am a cynical so and so aren’t I:)).

People like to talk about CES because it’s something to talk about rather than because of anything really newsworthy that comes out of it. It’s the self perpetuating hype. I can’t recall hearing of any significant new development that has been announced at the show.

TVs with a few more pixels. Slightly different shaped phones. More watches that can do a bit more than the previous watch. I read a GigaOm article this morning that majored on the fact that Lenovo had reintroduced its little nipple style trackball button/feature. There was nothing wrong with the article. It was just another piece in the rush to find new things to say to us in our 24×7 connected world.

Reality is that although marketing departments would not agree with me nothing ground breaking is introduced at these shows . Ground breaking rarely involve a step function. Something that wasn’t there yesterday but is today.

The iPhone and the iPad blazed a trail. However their early functionality was nothing like it is today. If today’s iPhone (6?) was introduced as the first model then that would be ground breaking. In fact Apple would have 100% market share. The iPhone can only be seen to be revolutionary by looking back at what has been achieved years after its first release.

CES is an expensive game. Lets say the average spend per stand was $50,000. Lots will be less than that but the big guys could easily hit seven figures and the costings have to include travel, accommodation and, this being Vegas, entertainment. That would make the total cost of showing up at CES to be $180 million.  I don’t think I’m far off. CES quote their net exhibitor space as being 2 million square feet and their undiscounted cost is $42 per square foot. That’s $82 million just for the floor space. I suspect my $180 million is on the low side.

While we’re on the numbers game lets assume that none of the 150,000 attendees actually work for exhibitors and that the journalists pay their own costs which isn’t necessarily the case as vendors often pay for journos to come as a way of getting their attention for a while. The average cost of being in Las Vegas for a week is probably $2,000 – $3,000 a head. So you can add between $300m and $450m to the economy of the show making it a half a billion turnover event all things considered. Gosh. And that’s excluding the cost of the gambling.

For the exhibitors it’s all one big gamble. It’s the old adage about only half the advertising spend being effective but you wish you knew which half. It’s the VP marketing being seen to do the right thing. I doubt that thy can measure the return on the investment at the show.

In our early days at Timico we used to look back to see how much business would arise from our investment in trade shows to inform next year’s spending decisions. Eventually we gave up and realised that much of the point of being at a trade show is for punters to see that you are in the game.

It’s a difficult one for start ups because for the spend to have any effect you have to repeat the activity on a continuous basis. Ok for established businesses with deep(ish) pockets but not so easy if you are pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. The one positive reason for being at a trade show is that you do get a concentration of people in one spot to get your message across. However with 3,599 others competing for the same webspace you do have to question whether it is money well spent.

If anything is worth looking at the market will reveal it. Twitter, YouTube and Facebook will spread the word. My friends will tell me. I’m more likely to buy something that way than to find out from CES that a life changing curved phone sits better in my hand.

I can’t see it changing though. Fear will win through. Fear of anonymity, failure. Fear that someone else’s announcement of a slightly modified TV or mobile phone will get more airtime than yours. Much of the money spent at CES will be wasted. Half of it if the old adage is anything to go by but I suspect more. Still I’m sure there are a few good shows to go and see. I note that Britney Spears, Elton John, Enrique Iglesias, Justin Timberlake, Rod Stewart, Styx and Santana are all playing Vegas this month. I wonder if you can still get tickets…

PS it isn’t just CES. Mobile World Congress is the same.

Trefor Davies

By Trefor Davies

Liver of life, father of four, CTO of, writer, poet,

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