It’s beginning to look a bit like MWC. Of course, things have thus far played out a bit differently than Mobile World Congress’s planned show in Barcelona back in 2020. There are clear reasons for this — back then, the pandemic was a virtual unknown. Nearly two years later, we have, at least, a better grasp — and more effective tools — even if not everyone has chosen to adhere to such methods.
CES 2020 made it in just under the wire, in terms of global shutdowns. For the 2021 show, its organizers at the CTA (very smartly) opted not to risk it and went entirely virtual. CES 2022 had been on track for a return — albeit a muted one that would play out as a kind of hybrid event for many involved.
Thus far, the dominoes that have begun to fall haven’t been quite as foundational as what we saw in Barcelona, but the rapid rise of the omicron variant is a pretty massive looming threat for organizers. Add to that a very likely holiday travel-related spike (whose numerical impact we won’t really see take hold until after CES) and the general unpredictability of Vegas (as a friend recently noted, you can’t get anywhere on the Strip without walking through a casino), and it’s understandable why many have recently gotten cold feet. Travel restrictions from countries like Israel have also added to difficulties.
In a statement, the CTA is holding firm on going forward as planned. The organizing body tells TechCrunch that exhibitor cancelations thus far amount to 7% of floor space, while the show continues to add names, in spite of the latest variant:
CES 2022 will be in person on January 5-8 in Las Vegas with strong safety measures in place, and our digital access is also available for people that don’t wish to, or can’t travel to Las Vegas. Our mission remains to convene the industry and give those who cannot attend in person the ability to experience the magic of CES digitally.
While we recently received 42 exhibitor cancellations (less than 7% of our exhibit floor), since last Friday we’ve added 60 new exhibitors for our in person event. Registrations for both our digital access and our Las Vegas event are continuing to show strong momentum, with thousands more registrations in the last few days.
CES 2022 will go forward as important innovation for world health and safety, mobility and solving problems will be exhibited. Furthermore, thousands of smaller and medium sized companies rely on CES for their business. We have increased our official count to over 2200 exhibitors and as announced yesterday many of our top elected officials from both political parties will be at CES.
Given CES’ comprehensive health measures — vaccination requirement, masking and availability of COVID-19 tests — coupled with lower attendance and social distancing measures, we are confident that attendees and exhibitors can have a socially distanced but worthwhile and productive event in Las Vegas, as well as a rewarding experience on our digital access.
Yesterday, T-Mobile became the first major sponsor to drop its in-person presence at the show. The carrier will continue to serve as a financial sponsor (likely nothing of contractual voiding proportions has occurred yet), but has opted not to send a majority of its team, while CEO Mike Sievert won’t be keynoting either in-person or virtually. Weirdly, Weezer will, apparently, still be there with T-Mobile’s blessing, performing a free concert on the Strip.
“We’re really excited to head back to Las Vegas, a city we love to play, and be part of this year’s epic Drone Racing League’s Vegas Championship Race with T-Mobile,” per a press quote from Rivers Cuomo. iHeartRadio, meanwhile, canceled a planned Swedish House Mafia show tied to the event.
Meta, Twitter, Amazon and Pinterest have since backed out. Though, while all big names in their own right, none have traditionally had a major presence at the show.
Earlier this week, we announced that we won’t be sending a team to the show, as have The Verge, CNET, Engadget, PCMag, Gizmodo, Tom’s Guide and TechRadar. It wasn’t an easy decision to make on our part. While it’s true that the past two years have likely marked the beginning of a sea change toward an even more online conferencing world, there’s still value for us in shows like CES.
In particular, there’s something to be gained in the opportunity to wander around Eureka Park and check out brand new startups in-person that have otherwise not been able to shout above the din of our cacophonous inboxes. I’ve discovered a lot of companies on the floor of the Venetian (née Sands) Expo Hall, and I was very much looking forward to doing so again after a year off.
CES 2021 was a major test of whether the world (and perhaps more specifically, the CTA) is ready for an all-online hardware show. I certainly came away from the experience thinking things were premature. The virtual CES experience wasn’t a particularly good one, especially with regards to discovery — the most difficult and important element to all of these shows.
Regardless of how much of the 2022 show plays out in-person, it needs an effective online presence. We know a lot of teams are already planning to cover the show remotely. Many are likely also questioning how the show will be covered, going forward, assuming, knock on wood, this pandemic ever actual ends.
The CTA has, thus far, been steadfast in all of this. The organization has repeatedly reconfirmed that the show will go on, as planned, introducing new health protocols along the way. In addition to requiring proof of vaccination and masks, the organization is also giving out free rapid testing kits to attendees, who must also show a recent negative test prior to entering the venue.
The CES social media account has otherwise been devoted to images of the interior of the Las Vegas Convention Center and new speaker announcements, which currently include Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and Paris Hilton, who is set to talk about blockchain in a panel called “NFT, WTF?!?!” (punctuation theirs).
Companies like Google, HTC, John Deere, TCL and BMW tell TechCrunch that they are “continuing to monitor the situation” in so many words. Other companies, including Nvidia, have opted for an over abundance of caution from the outset, with a virtual press conference and no exhibitor space.