CES 2021 will be fully digitized this year as the organizers believe this is the only way to protect participants during the pandemic.
The Consumer Technology Association (CTA) hosts the biggest technology fair of the year and attracts around 180,000 people to Las Vegas every January. But there won’t be a physical event in 2021, CTA CEO Gary Shapiro said in an interview with VentureBeat. This will be a heavy blow to tech marketers who rely on CES to showcase upcoming products at an event that will attract tons of press, tech enthusiasts, and buyers.
The new digital show format will continue to allow exhibitors, attendees, the press and technology leaders to connect with each other through online conversations and virtual meetings, Shapiro said. The CTA ̵
“As every month passed, we hoped that this would somehow dissolve by January,” said Shapiro. “However, it is believed that there will be no vaccine that is widely available and safe until January. At our board meeting, the question was: “What is the right thing?” We make a decision based on the right approach and not the best financial decision for us. “
Shapiro noted that his wife, who works as a doctor in a hospital, had COVID-19 even though he didn’t have it himself. He said he understood the seriousness of the situation in the United States, where more than 4.4 million were infected and over 150,000 died.
“We have found that it is simply not possible to have a physical CES without a vaccine,” he said. “Our event was primarily an indoor event. If it were a financial decision, we would go on. [But this decision] gives exhibitors and participants the opportunity to make their own plans and redefine the event and its digital presence. “
He said the CTA did not want to be responsible for the further spread of the pandemic, despite the fact that thousands of exhibitors and probably tens of thousands of people had already registered.
“Over time it got more and more uncomfortable and it didn’t get better,” he said.
The CTA also believed that it should turn early. Shapiro noted that Google has just announced that employees should work from home by summer 2021. The reappearance of the virus this summer is forcing companies and the association to be more careful and accept the fact that it is not safe to gather for a while.
The digital show will continue to include keynote speakers and you can watch it comfortably and safely from home or from the office. This is a big change as the show has never been online in over 50 years of existence. The event will take place in the first week of January 2021, and CES 2022 will be a hybrid physical and digital event.
“In 2022, we are planning a hybrid event in Las Vegas and a sophisticated digital event based on our knowledge from 2021,” said Shapiro.
He said the team spent a lot of time dealing with protective measures such as disinfectants, mask requirements, tests, and physical barriers. However, he noted that test kits are lacking as more companies prepare to get workers back to work. The team began aggressively working on a digital expansion in March, but the decision to break off the physical element took longer.
(VentureBeat is a media partner for CES, and I advised CES to cancel the physical event.)
“We are pretty excited about the possibilities of the digital event,” said Shapiro. “It enables everyone to participate and there is so much going on in our industry with 5G, AI, self-driving cars, drones and health technology.”
Meanwhile, the CTA announced on Monday that it had brought together a number of technology and healthcare companies to launch the Public Health Tech Initiative, which aims to develop technologies to deal with future pandemics.
“We have had many successes in health technology,” said Shapiro. “This focuses on how we can plan the next global health crisis after this pandemic.”
Did CES 2020 spread the pandemic?
Some people have wondered on social media whether CES 2020 is responsible for the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S., as more than 182,000 people from around the world have gathered. But Shapiro doubts that this was the case. His organization investigated this and found that the earliest confirmed case in Las Vegas itself was in March, long after the CES.
“It certainly worried us because nobody wants to be associated with this type of distribution,” he said.
Regarding the impact of the decision on partners and the city of Las Vegas, Shapiro said, “We’re heartbroken.” He admitted how many providers rely on meetings and conventions to generate revenue, not to mention the airlines and the hotels.
“It is important for the people involved. This obviously has an impact, ”said Shapiro.
Shapiro did not say whether the CTA expected any contractual issues with the city or the providers. However, he noted that most contracts include force majeure clauses that allow contracts to be broken due to exceptional events such as a pandemic. The next week, he said the CTA would hold follow-up calls. But the end result is clear.
“In this case, it’s just not possible to have a safe event,” he said.