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South Hall Goes Dark

Digital CES Component Here to Stay as 'Almost a CES Bonus': Shapiro

The digital component of CES will extend beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, said Jean Foster, CTA senior vice president-marketing and communications, at the CES Unveiled New York event Wednesday at the Rainbow Room. “When you actually allow people to join digitally, we can reach many, many more people, so that will be an ongoing part of the show.”

For CES 2022, CTA will use a different digital platform, Web Summit, than at CES 2021, choosing not to repeat with Microsoft as digital partner (see 2110260044). Digital attendees will be able to use Web Summit to chat with exhibitors, stream content from keynotes or set up appointments, said the association.

The pandemic forced the trade show industry to “try something different, we had to,” said CES Executive Vice President Karen Chupka. Before the pandemic, products or services weren't readily available to emulate physical trade shows digitally, she said. The medium will continue to evolve and “change how we connect with people from around the world in a trade show environment,” she said. The value of a trade show is still based on “that serendipity -- walking the halls and seeing new companies,” she said.

A big advantage of extending CES digitally is to allow attendees to go back after the fact and hear speakers and contact exhibitors they wouldn’t be able to get to on the show floor, said CTA CEO Gary Shapiro. “It’s almost a bonus service,” Shapiro said: “We’re not charging exhibitors anything extra.” The digital CES platform will remain open until the end of January, Chupka said.

New for CES 2022, digital attendees will be able to chat with one another, using AI to “help serve up content, companies you should see” and visit exhibitors in Eureka Park, home to many tech startups, Chupka said. The platform “gives you all the abilities to connect,” she said, but “we can never really create what the magic of CES is in person.” CTA will have keynotes, power panels and speeches on the platform, but how exhibitors make use of the digital component “is up to them,” said Shapiro. Some exhibitors are “greatly interested” in a digital presence and others less so, he said.

CES for now is planning to have only in-person exhibitors on the digital platform, Chupka said. Some 1,600 companies “and counting” are exhibiting, she said. That’s far fewer than the 4,400 companies that exhibited at CES 2020, but 1,600 exhibitors is "a lot of companies to sift through on a digital platform,” she said.

CTA released the companies scheduled for CES news conferences at Mandalay Bay on the Jan. 4 Media Day (no news conferences are on the schedule for Jan. 3, the first Media Day), with Samsung and TCL standing out as previous regulars that won't have in-person news conferences that day. Both are CES 2022 exhibitors. Jong-Hee Han, president-Samsung's visual display business, will deliver the Jan. 4 pre-show keynote at the Venetian Palazzo ballroom. A TCL spokesperson emailed Thursday that instead of a physical news conference, the company plans a virtual one Jan. 4.

Though digital news conferences have broader access, Chupka told us she doesn't see them replacing in-person events. "The press wants to touch and see and feel the products," she told us. On Samsung's decision not to hold an event, she said the company wanted to deliver its news at the keynote on the eve of CES. Samsung didn't comment.

No 'Pushback' on Vaccine Mandate

All CES attendees will be required to show proof of vaccination. Shapiro and Chupka said they aren’t aware of any invited keynoters who declined to participate in CES due to the vaccine requirement. “We expected some pushback; we were prepared for it,” Shapiro said: “We didn’t get it.” A few tech executives opted out of CES due to the vaccine requirement “because they had medical reasons,” Shapiro said. “They want to be there,” he said, noting "there’s no one more frustrated at this point with COVID in terms of the business environment.” CEOs want to go to Las Vegas to see their customers, learn, engage in face-to-face encounters and see their own employees, some of whom they haven’t physically met since the pandemic started, he said.

Proof of vaccine will be via the Clear app for domestic attendees and a “similar style” app for international visitors, Chupka told us. U.S. attendees can download the Clear app, upload their Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccination card into the app and select CES as the event. A QR code that refreshes every few days will show the code needed to pick up a badge. “All attendees must pick up their own badge this year so we can verify vaccine,” she said. No one can get a badge until vaccine credentials are verified, she said. CTA is finalizing the details for the international app and will announce details in a few weeks, she said.

The CES website’s health protocol FAQs say CES continues to consult with medical professionals "to determine how to accept proof of antibodies” in place of a vaccine. Chupka told us CTA looked into antibodies as an alternative to a vaccine, “but based on CDC guidelines, there is not a recommended way to do that.” CES “will not be accepting antibody info for access,” she said.

Shapiro said the 1,600 exhibitor number “is changing every day,” up from 1,100 a few weeks ago. The biggest decline is among smaller companies from Asia, he said. "It’s not that they can’t get out" of their home countries to visit CES, he said. "It’s that they can’t get back in.” Travelers flying back through Shanghai or Beijing need to quarantine for two weeks upon landing, then need to quarantine again when reaching their final destinations inside China, he said.

The Las Vegas Convention Center's South Hall, customary CES home to many small Asian companies, won’t be used, said Chupka. That's just for CES 2022, she said, not a long-term decision.

CES 2022 registration numbers are “much better than I thought we’d be at this point," said Shapiro. He cited visa issues in some countries that are creating backlogs, “and those people may not be able to come.” Recounting a discussion from a conference of trade show executives he attended this month, Shapiro said: “Every trade show’s going to be not as big as the one before.” The upside for trade show organizers, he said, is that the pared-down shows seem to be attracting “more serious people.”

The pandemic meant "a difficult year and nine months for all of us," said Shapiro. Some companies that want to be at CES 2022 can’t be there for various reasons, Shapiro said. Chip shortages have delayed products that would-be exhibitors would have showcased in Las Vegas, he said. "Or they don’t have the staff anymore that knows how to put on a trade show," he said.

'People Have Figured It Out'

Shapiro said the logistical problems affect domestic and international companies differently. “If you’re bringing in a car from Germany,” he said, “you have to plan differently than if you’re bringing in something from the United States.” At this point so close to CES 2022, he said, “people have figured it out, or they can’t exhibit.” He hasn't personally heard of the shortage of truck drivers affecting U.S. exhibitors, he said: “If you plan ahead enough, I think you can still do it.”

On pandemic requirements put in place for the Jan. 3-4 Media Days, Chupka said social distancing measures will be enforced. Las Vegas authorities currently require that masks be worn indoors, she said. “We will announce in December,” to be sure CES is following the most up-to-date guidance, she said.

One novel health and safety protocol for CES 2022 -- attendees can pick up placards when they enter the show's conference rooms for placing on the seats next to them to promote more social distancing, Chupka said. Organizers' intent is to enable attendees to “dictate what they’re comfortable with,” she said. Referencing COVID-19-era social awkwardness at physical events, Chupka said CES also will make available self-adhesive red, yellow and green dots for people to put on their badge holders to show others their level of comfort for physical contact. Red tells others no touching, while yellow says a fist or elbow bump is OK. Green shows pre-pandemic handshakes or hugs are allowable. Attendees can swap out their dots for a different color throughout their visit to CES 2022 as their comfort level changes, said Chupka.

Shapiro said attendees will experience many new things about CES, “physically,” compared with the last in-person CES two years ago. “It’s going to take some time to familiarize yourself,” he said. The massive new 600,000-square-foot West Hall of the LVCC, available to CES for the first time, will be home to automotive and in-vehicle technology exhibitors. North Hall will host smart cities and digital health exhibitors. Central Hall will have gaming products and long-time tenants like LG, Samsung and Sony, plus “all the large brands,” said Shapiro. The Sands Expo Convention Center will have smart home, sports and fitness tech, plus Eureka Park.

Boring Co.’s $47 million LVCC Loop, the underground transportation network that uses Tesla vehicles, is mostly operational, said Chupka. An additional section of the tunnel system is due to open in time for CES 2022 to transport guests of the Resorts World Las Vegas property, just north of the Encore, to West Hall, she said. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority estimates a 25-minute walk time between the West and Central Halls. Using the Loop can reduce the commute to two minutes, it says. The system can transport more than 4,400 people an hour across the LVCC property, it says. Human drivers will operate the Loop's cars during CES 2022, Chupka told us. The long-term goal is for Loop vehicles to run autonomously, she said. Stations for the free Loop are at the West, North and South halls.

CES 2022 exhibiting companies are investing heavily in their booths, and many are coming to the show with plans to announce new products, said Chupka, in response to a question on whether lower corporate travel budgets will reduce CES attendance. Companies submitted more than 1,800 products to the CES Innovation Awards competition, a new high, she said.

Chupka agrees the show is “going to be different,” she said. “It’s not going to be what we saw in 2020,” she said. Some CES 2022 components are growing in unexpected ways, compared with two years ago. International exhibitors booked space in Eureka Park months ago, before even knowing if they could travel to the U.S. for CES 2022, she said. The U.S. reopened its borders to vaccinated foreign visitors Nov. 8.