Last month, I posited a tough question for the specialty audio business (https://hifiplus.com/articles/we-need-to-talk-about-vegas/):do we still need to show up for the annual CES in Las Vegas every January? The response was fascinating. There was the public debate, from the Disqus comments boxes below the blog to the comment being picked up on several Facebook pages. But there was also the private debate, the series of ‘under the radar’ emails from industry people wishing to express themselves, but not in public. I’m going to honour those individuals desire for secrecy, but the content of their emails – if not their email addresses – deserve airing.
One of the most commonly suggested alternatives was to create a break-out music-only CES elsewhere and later in the year. Of these, perhaps the best version of this was to suggest hosting this in ‘a music town’; Nashville, Memphis, or – returning to the CES roots – Chicago. The advantage to this is it gives audio greater exposure to audio while remaining under the CES banner: the seemingly slow-moving audio stream presently fails to gain attention amid the autonomous vehicles and wearable tech markets. Moreover, with the world’s tech press increasingly viewing Las Vegas CES as the place to find the craziest gadgets and bleeding edge tech, more established technologies (such as audio, photo, and video) might be better served finding an exclusive Summer CES of their own. However, while this has its merits, I’m not completely convinced by this idea, however, because we risk making those breakaway CES sectors even more of ghost ship, as those outside the relevant specialists in the sectors will simply stay away.
The next largest group of statements were from companies saying, “don’t tell anyone, but I agree… but where do we go otherwise?” This came from mid-large sized companies (in our business), many of which already exhibit at Munich, at one or more of the public shows in the US, and in at least one of the Asian audio shows. Their concern was that pulling out of the consumer industry’s big event risks making their products shift from ‘almost invisible’ to ‘invisible’ in a wider market. But all shared a concern that this increasingly expensive week at the beginning of the year was not delivering the returns it once did, both in terms of media coverage and future sales.
There were also a number of people who suggested that the Las Vegas ‘no-show’ issue is pinned to the ups and downs of the US economy, and that any suggestions about moving away from CES are alarmist at best. While sheer numbers were down, they suggested, it was all about ‘quality’ rather than ‘quantity’, and those who did visit rooms were committed buyers, dealers, and distributors. In fairness, pundits in the wider tech community did view this year’s event as having something akin to ‘growing pains’ and a lot of the more established technologies were in a holding pattern this year, so maybe next year’s show will be more productive. While I think the situation in audio is potentially more damaged than these people suggest, I’m more than willing to accept that I’ve mis-read this year’s Las Vegas entirely.
A few commented that the show remains a necessary part of a company’s presence in the audio world, but that presence could be reduced. That could mean exhibitors only showing up every other year to the show, or even the Specialty Audio section of the show itself only appearing on alternate years. This might be the answer for some; we are not so fickle a market as to assume a company failing to appear in a hotel room in Las Vegas means that company has disappeared, and rocking up one January in every two or three with a host of new products still excites the audiophile world. A perhaps telling statement in all this was people were prepared to only attend CES once every two years, but wouldn’t dream of missing Munich!
Perhaps the most controversial – but arguably correct – response was to argue the audio world should make better products; ones more suitable to the wider marketplace. Certainly, in viewing the difference between CES audio rooms that were consistently full and consistently empty, the full rooms had products that passed the ‘elevator pitch’ test – they were marketable to a wide audience, and priced to reach that wider audience. The logic goes as follows: make enough of the right kind of product in the corridors of the Specialty Audio section of CES, and there will be more people attending. Frankly, however, I’m not convinced by this argument – the whole event has become so large that no-one can take time out of their schedule to visit, and if your specific ‘beat’ as a buyer or a member of the press does not include audio, you simply won’t be able to visit the audio section, regardless.
Finally, one suggestion was to state that the whole CES issue is far too ‘industry’ and no real people care enough about shows – especially trade shows – to give a damn about the whole thing. This particular comment signed off that there are too many audio shows and we should skip almost all of them altogether. This last, frankly, blindsided me, as I thought show reports are one of our regular ‘most popular’ features. Give one of the shows he thought particularly irrelevant was our coverage of the Bristol Sound & Vision show – a show we will be attending next weekend – this seems an appropriate time to reopen the discussion.
As ever, we welcome your views…
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