CES 2021 is officially an online-only event


The online gadgets-and-gizmo festival once known as the Consumer Electronics Show, now officially just CES, is now officially online-only.

On Tuesday morning, July 27, the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), the tech trade group behind the show, announced that it was abandoning plans for a physical event in favor of an “all-digital experience.”

Such an event will still let showgoers hear from technology innovators, see hot new product launches, and talk to brands from across the globe, the group said. Just not in person.

“Amid the pandemic and growing global health concerns about the spread of COVID-19, it’s just not possible to safely convene tens of thousands of people in Las Vegas in early January 2021 to meet and do business in person,” said Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the CTA.

“Technology helps us all work, learn, and connect during the pandemic — and that innovation will also help us reimagine CES 2021 and bring together the tech community in a meaningful way. By shifting to an all-digital platform for 2021, we can deliver a unique experience that helps our exhibitors connect with existing and new audiences.”

“It’s just not possible to safely convene tens of thousands of people in Las Vegas in early January.”

The CTA did not reveal details about what the online event will look like, nor whether it plans to license an online trade-show platform or build one of its own. And a single line in the announcement offered little insight: “CES 2021 will be a new immersive experience where attendees will have a front-row seat to discover and see the latest technology.” But in an interview with Digital Trends, Senior Vice President Jean Foster confirmed that the CTA will be developing its own platform.

“We’re not going to have little avatars roaming around booths. We want to create the trade show of the future,” she told us. The new platform will allow individuals to register as media and provide a venue for gated events for manufacturers, and it will expand upon existing streaming media initiatives. Developing a means to recreate the excitement and surprise of bumping into other showgoers, and the delight of stumbling across something completely unexpected, will be a unique challenge, however.

Trade shows transforming

Trade shows and events of all shapes and sizes have been canceled or reshaped as online events in recent months, as the impact of the coronavirus continues to impact the globe. Some events have succeeded: Apple was widely lauded for its recent product unveiling, a highly produced event meant to unveil its newest software and devices. And Collision Conference, a relatively new event from the Irish group behind Web Summit, revealed in late June an astonishing new platform for virtual trade shows, and proved the viability of online-only shows through the tens of thousands of attendees. Sure, there were bumps in the road, but overall, the event was a remarkable success.

Meanwhile, the main competitor to CES is a German tech show called IFA, which is traditionally held over Labor Day weekend — the promoters behind that event plan to move ahead with a physical conference. But will that actually happen?

In early July, Samsung said it will not attend the show because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Instead, it plans to hold a digital event in the same month.

A commitment to change

The CTA made headlines a few weeks back with news of continued investment in women, people of color, and other underrepresented entrepreneurs within the tech industry — long a focus of the group.

The CTA’s $10 million diversity investment that was announced at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in 2019 now includes venture firm MaC Venture Capital, which shares money with entrepreneurs to create the next generation of technology and consumer products.

“We’re thrilled to invest in MaC Venture Capital, which has unlocked opportunities for more than 100 diverse founders in our country,” Tiffany Moore, the senior vice president of political and industry affairs at CTA, said in a statement. “Data shows that underrepresented founders — including women and people of color — are at a disadvantage because they don’t have access to funding from investors. CTA is committed to working toward creating change in the VC landscape.”

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