It’s time to stop complaining about the Consumer Electronics Show

Every year, the tech blogs and writers kvetch about the annual International CES.

Consumer Electronics Show press conference line
CES press lining up

Attending International CES is a rite of passage for any CE industry member or journalist. During the first week in January, every thing is long. The days are long. The cab lines are long. The food lines are long. The monorail lines are long. The distance between events is long. It’s not the Bataan Death March, by any means, but people still complain every year.

Having attended the show since the early 1990s, you learn a few tricks. One is to give yourself plenty of time between events, especially when faced with heavy traffic times early in the show. I am amazed by the people who give themselves 10 minutes to get from South Hall to the North Hall.

By far, the worst offenders in the “I hate CES” brigade are, interestingly, tech bloggers and journalists. These are people who make a living covering tech, and somehow feel put upon by actually leaving their offices to look for it. Leo “The Tech Guy” Laporte, whose “This Week in Tech” is one of the top podcasts, seems to only be interested in CES when sponsors pay his way. When this doesn’t happen, he bashes the show on his podcast. He even referred to his Jan. 4 podcast as the “Aren’t I glad I didn’t go to CES” episode.

Then there’s this classic rant from a couple of years ago, where a tech blogger is now dispensing marketing advice, based on his dislike of CES:

But the CES tidal wave is insanity, and I wonder why any rational tech marketer would want to compete with the storm surge of gear and risk being lost in the sea of new announcements. – Joe Wilcox, executive editor, BetaNews (former CNET writer), from “I hate CES, and you should, too.”

The ironic thing is, accredited journalists are treated like gold. CES provides them a free lunch every day (while supplies last). Each journalist gets a pretty nice backpack to tote their stuff in. Before the show opens, there is a day full of press conferences, where new products are shown, explained and demoed. There are special press-only product showcases – “CES Unveiled”, “Showstoppers” and “Digital Experience!” – that condense most of the cool products down to ballroom-size events, where food and alcohol are provided gratis. Most of them get invited to posh dinners or social events that run-of-the-mill attendees don’t get to invites to. In reality, just by going to those events, most journalists probably don’t even need to walk the show floor at all. Yet they complain. And complain. (Ironically, some of those who complain blog for publications who are International CES sponsors and media partners.)

Big companies can’t keep up with electronics innovation

Is the Consumer Electronics Show perfect? No, of course not. Do all the leading companies exhibit? No, Microsoft, IBM, Motorola and many more bailed years ago. (It was greatly unsettling this year to see a Chinese flat-panel maker in Microsoft’s customary spot in the Central Hall, next to Intel.) I can’t remember if Apple ever did. Others merely take small meeting rooms.

With the pace of innovation increasing, however, there will be fewer great things coming from the big companies anyway. Large companies also prefer to have their own events, where they don’t have to compete for attention, or go to category niche shows, like smartphone makers going to Mobile World Congress. That’s understandable, but the CE industry is so large and so diverse, it’s part of the fun to see what percolates upwards from someone’s lab or basement. (A lot of these are actually in the Sands convention center, not the LVCC.) That’s why it’s called a “show.” Because it’s a spectacle.

Plus, there’s also the personal angle to the show. An event like this brings like minds together, so CES is a great place to reconnect with friends and meet new contacts. That’s part of the fun and the challenge. To get the most out of CES, you have get out of your shell and meet new people. Maybe walk the floor and look for interesting things, instead of drinking the free soda in the press room for hours on end.

And, considering the show floorspace is up to 2.2 million square feet and attendance is on the rise, the International CES is here to stay. Deal with it. If covering tech has become that big of a chore for you, maybe you should find another line of work.