CES 2022 was unlike any show we’ve hosted in our 55-year history.
As we prepared our return to Las Vegas for the first in-person CES in two years, we could feel the momentum and excitement building in the consumer tech community. Hundreds of companies signed on to exhibit, even after the emergence of the Omicron variant around Thanksgiving. We were confident in the strong health protocols we’d put in place, including a vaccination requirement announced in the summer of 2021, masking requirements and free Abbott BiNAX Now rapid tests that would be made available to attendees.
Months of planning by CTA staff and consultants meant that we were ready to put on a show, but we couldn’t be certain our guests would arrive. A few big-brand companies withdrew from in-person participation, but many more reached out to tell us just how much they wanted the show to go forward.
Thousands of companies rely on CES to pitch new, innovative and life-changing technologies. After an all-digital show in 2021, this was an opportunity for them to make connections and build the relationships that are so critical to business success.
We also listened to President Biden’s Dec. 21 call for schools and businesses to remain open — with precautions in place — which seemed a strong message that business should continue. That encouragement, along with advice from various expert consultants, supported our decision to move ahead with an in-person show.
Opening day demonstrated the strong excitement and desire by so many to convene again in person. More than 2,300 exhibitors showcased incredible innovation on the show floor, joined by over 40,000 industry executives and thought leaders. We knew this year’s CES would be messy, and it was no surprise to see some gaps on the show floor. But by the time we wrapped on Friday, it was clear that even a smaller show punched well above its weight.
Here are my key takeaways from CES 2022:
People Have Different Views on Pandemic Precautions
This statement won’t come as a surprise to anyone, but we watched it play out in real time as we organized CES 2022. We lost some exhibitors over the summer when we announced our vaccine requirement, though several executives thanked me for pushing their CES-loving employees to get vaccinated. We lost some attendees in December over health and safety concerns surrounding the Omicron variant, especially those from the worst-hit coastal cities and COVID-cautious countries. Given the uncertainty of the pandemic throughout our planning process, we decided to meet people where they were by investing further in our digital event for those who could not, or chose not to, travel to Las Vegas. That decision paid dividends in our enhanced capacity to capture content and make it available to attendees virtually both during and after the event.
Companies Rely on CES — Especially Startups, Small and Mid-Size Companies
I wasn’t completely sure what to expect at CES, but I was shocked by the nearly universal excitement and enthusiasm. I did not receive one complaint during the show, and the 100+ exhibitors I spoke to all expressed their gratitude for our decision to go forward with CES. Many small and mid-sized companies use CES to connect with customers, partners, investors and media. While our attendee numbers were down, exhibitors reported the quality of participants, especially CXOs and international, was strong. In fact, the decision by some big companies to withdraw from the show created new opportunities to shine for many of our startups and small companies.
As an executive from one large multinational corporation put it, “this was the show of small and medium-sized companies.” Another executive from a smaller company emphasized the important role CES plays for innovators trying to “break-into the industry.”
International Attendees and Media Flocked to CES
This was perhaps my biggest surprise. Over 14,000 international visitors came to CES 2022, along with over 600 members of the international media. I am not sure the U.S. has had any event in the last two years with this type of showing. Those are some 14,000 people who were willing to undergo extra testing and challenging travel requirements because they recognized that CES presents such a unique opportunity. As one international participant put it, “CES 2022: inspiring. We had all been more or less hesitant to come to Vegas despite the pandemic. … I issued and canceled several plane tickets before flying. In the end, we were rewarded. [CES 2022 was the] edition that will serve as a reference for other world events in the coming months.”
We Need Leadership and Real Life Experiences
I heard from executives of companies big and small thanking me for taking a stand. They recognize the importance of getting back to in-person interactions where relationships can be fostered, investments made and new products discovered. While I’ll be the first to praise the tech companies who made virtual meetings and workplace collaboration possible in the early stages of the pandemic, it can’t replace the value and importance of face-to-face conversations.
Ultimately, COVID will be with us for some time, and we have to find ways to live with that reality. Several CEOs made precisely that point to me in commending CTA on our leadership in hosting an in-person CES. As one wrote to me, “It is not easy making the decisions you are making and I wanted to lend my support. You are taking all the right measures to ensure everyone’s safety as best as you can to greatly reduce risk. … For what it’s worth, I personally believe that if we don’t start moving to some level of what it was like, we will be doing damage that can’t be measured in charts and graphs.”
Leadership requires taking a stand and our stand resonated with many business executives across multiple industries.
Innovation is Blossoming and Changing the World
Since our last gathering in Las Vegas in 2020 the world has changed, and tech has evolved along with it — especially in areas like health care, mobility, food and entertainment. The pandemic accelerated many existing trends, pushing us towards telehealth services and streaming and increased reliance on artificial intelligence. We’ve seen breakthroughs in robotics, delivery, and the virtual reality. In the home entertainment sector alone, CES 2022 introduced new trends in audio, such as Noveto’s “invisible headphones” that beam audio directly into your ears; video and display, such as Sony’s Bravia Cam that optimizes TV picture quality and brightness; and virtual and artificial reality tech that can bring live events and sports to the metaverse and into homes via smartphones and VR headsets.
Despite our time apart, innovation has not stopped. Instead, it appears to have sped up, spurred by entrepreneurs from around the globe who have committed their expertise and know-how to solving some of the world’s biggest challenges. After walking the show floor this year, I’m more optimistic than ever in the capacity of innovation and technology to change millions of lives for the better.
I can’t wait for CES 2023 — and hope to see you there!
Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), the trade group that produces the annual CES.