We’re on the eve of the Consumer Electronics Show, and it’s already clear to most of us that the event is in jeopardy. Not only are some big names (like Microsoft) expected to withdraw after this year, the whole notion of shows in general and this one in particular is under threat. Ironically, what’s threatening both are the things that the show helped to promote in the past.
Anyone who remembers the ‘90s knows that media has been changed profoundly by the Internet. The ability to communicate instantly with prospective buyers stimulates the desire to do that, and that means having something instant to communicate. In the past, it was considered smart to make big splashes at trade shows because the media would be there to cover things and you could explain your product easily. Today nobody wants the product explained anyway, and the media is spending weeks in advance speculating or publishing leaks. By the time the event arises there’s more a sense of anticlimax.
That’s not all, either. Only a few companies can really hope to create a stir at an event like CES. If you’re one of them, you can create a stir anywhere, so why let a bunch of techno-leeches barge in on your thing? You can control your message more in a major launch where you’re on stage alone, and you get all the attention.
This year we may be adding in another factor. How much consumer electronics can we show? There’s not much “new” expected at the show this year. We’ll have perhaps new tablet models, new OS features, maybe some trendy little gadgets, but it’s not like the heady age of smartphone and tablet launches in a market that was comparatively a desert. We’ve had HDTV and 3DTV. What now? Smellavision? There are a few places we could still stick touchscreens, but it’s pretty likely we’ve passed the point of diminishing returns. Consumer marketing is about fads, but fads are like cries of “wolf!” You can promote them when people are bored, but every one of them raises the bar for the next.