Should CES And Macworld Go Virtual?

Flickr (Domain Barnyard)

Source: Flickr (Domain Barnyard)

With all due respect to the CEA (CES) and IDG World Expo (Macworld), I found it interesting that the primary discussion around CES and Macworld this week has been who and what will not be there, rather than the announcements and happenings scheduled at these venues.  Before I go further, let me state up front that I work in virtual events, so my thoughts are biased.  Now let’s review the “not there, not coming” list:

  1. Bill Gates (CES) — off pursuing his noble not-for-profit initiatives
  2. Steve Jobs (Macworld)
  3. Attendees  – lower numbers expected at both venues, compared to 2008
  4. Exhibitors – lower numbers expected at CES, compared to 2008

“Electronics trade shows change with times” is the headline of a story in today’s USA Today.  Some excerpts from this article:

Software king Adobe Systems and gadget maker Belkin dropped out of Macworld. Networking giant Cisco and Sanyo, being acquired by Panasonic, won’t be exhibiting at CES.


“I’ve surveyed my clients, and while many will be at the show, they are dramatically cutting back,” says James McQuivey, an analyst at Forrester Research. “If they had 20 people at the show last year, this year it’s just four.”

So clearly, the current economic climate is having its effect on industry events.  I do see a lot of value in the face-to-face event.  In fact, a significant aspect of CES is the brokering of partnership and business development deals between and among vendors, suppliers and retailers.  That activity is very effective “in person” and may not (yet) be well suited to online-only activity.  Another aspect of CES is the schmoozing and the wining and dining of clients and business partners.  This also cannot be replaced online, as far as I’m aware!  So I’m certainly not recommending the shuttering of CES (or Macworld).

But why not launch complementary events online?  For the product announcement angle of these events, online seems a natural fit.  In 2008, several IT vendors skipped the physical launch event and handled 100% of their product launch over the web, whether it was a Live Webinar, Live Videocast or a Virtual Tradeshow.  In an online venue, your potential audience expands, but you can still connect with your target base of customers, prospects and industry analysts.

James McQuivey of Forrester had a relevant quote in the USA Today article:

Says McQuivey, “New products get launched on blogs. There’s no reason to go through all the hassle and expense of trade shows anymore.” Apple said just that as it dropped out of Macworld, citing the reach of its own retail stores and website.

Now, let’s talk a bit about the green angle.  The same article quoted Jason Oxman from CEA:

Jason Oxman, senior vice president at the Consumer Electronics Association, which stages CES, says that even in the downturn, companies that are cutting back aren’t eliminating CES altogether. Like Cisco, they’re just eliminating the convention floor booths and opting for meeting room suites instead.

“Trade shows take on renewed importance in a down economy,” he says. “Every major consumer electronics manufacturer, buyer, installer and retailer is there. It’s the most efficient travel saver imaginable.”

I think Jason’s point is that because “everyone” attends CES, you schedule this one trip in January because you won’t need to go back to meet those same people (individually) later in the year.  While that does seem wise, I disagree on the “most efficient travel saver imaginable” quote.  To me, the most efficient travel saver is not to travel.

Hence, I could see a lot of value in a Virtual CES, where the product announcement angle of CES takes place.  The CEA could supplement their revenue stream by packaging this online opportunity with their physical event sponosorships.  I’m sure they’d draw quite a crowd online.  Exhibitors could demo their latest products from the comfort of their office (or home), be able to track all visits to their booth and have all interactions (with attendees) saved as text transcripts.  Steve Ballmer could still kick things off – but instead of in-person, you’d have him on a live video broadcast.

The uncomfortable angle to this (for the CEA) is that the flagship (physical) event may shrink significantly and be left to the deal makers, winers and diners.  On the flip side, it would cut back dramatically on carbon emissions and if done right, online would become the new flaghship.

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