Tyler Suiters:

Hey, everybody. I'm Tyler Suiters with the Consumer Technology Association. We are the owners and the producers of CES, the most influential tech event in the world. Brand-new for 2021, CES is an all-digital show. And brand-new for 2021, CES goes beyond just one week in Las Vegas. This is an all-digital show that runs through February 15. So, rather than just several days of meetings and conversations and discussions and discussions and pitches, you are able to access the content from CES 2021, the keynotes, the conference sessions, you can schedule meetings, talk to exhibitors, see product unveils, all through February 15, well beyond the traditional show dates of CES.

Tyler Suiters:

And today, we're taking you behind the seeds of the all digital show, a conversation on how CES 2021 came together, the value you can still get by attending this all digital show and what CES 2022 may look like. That's all coming up on this edition of CES Tech Talk.

Tyler Suiters:

Joining us now, Karen Chupka, the Executive Vice President of CES, and Gary Shapiro, the President and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, the owner and producer of CES. Karen and Gary, great to have you with us. Congratulations on CES 2021.

Gary Shapiro:

Thank you. Great to be here.

Karen Chupka:

We're happy to be here, and nice to start the new year off with a great technology event.

Tyler Suiters:

Well, after a year, unlike any other in modern times, it was a CES unlike any other. First of all, you're not returning from Las Vegas. You're returning from Redmond, Washington, which was the center for broadcast operations for CES this year. Let's talk about how we got to this point for an all-digital CES 2021, and what you were really trying to accomplish through the platform and this change in format.

Gary Shapiro:

Well, we started out early in the year, once COVID hit and we started thinking about it. And by March, we made a decision with our board that we would have a two-track approach. One, a hybrid event, digital and physical, and the other just purely digital. And certainly, by June, July, we knew what direction we're going and in July, we announced that we would be purely digital and we did that so everyone could adjust quickly, everyone from our customer base and the exhibitors to the city of Las Vegas, our partner -- in normal years. And it was a very important decision. And we also decided that it was something we had to create our own, in a sense, platform for, because all the off-the-shelf ones just didn't seem to work for what we were trying to do.

Karen Chupka:

Yeah, I think it was very important for us that you really can't take what happens at a live trade show and just transform that with a push of a button to a digital format. And we really looked at what was the value that CES delivers and for us that was the value of connections. And so, we really wanted to make sure that what we were doing was going to help people to connect in the way that they connect when they're in Las Vegas.

Gary Shapiro:

We also heard from our customers that they wanted us to go forward. Look, we're the most important innovation event in the world, and innovation to us is going to be solving some of the most fundamental problems we've had. We've seen this during the pandemic, what technology has done, it's allowed us to stay connected with each other, to do many of our jobs, for our kids to be schooled, for telehealth, and all those things are about technology.

Gary Shapiro:

And this pandemic, as bad as it's been, it's had a silver lining and it's accelerated the digital transformation. And frankly, the transformation of our own industry in new directions, in new ways, it's shifted the arc of technology and innovation. And we were 100% certain and gotten 100% support from our industry that we should go forward and try to create a digital event and focus on what's important, which is personalization, customization, discovery, great speakers, great conferences, the ability for companies to have private meetings. And that's what we looked for and that's why we ended up partnering with Microsoft, because they delivered so much of it and they filled in a lot of the gaps, the things we could not do, including literally producing hundreds of hours of programming.

Tyler Suiters:

And the ability to reach such a broad global audience, the barrier to entry, if you will, was so much lower without having to travel, without having to be in a certain place, and technology enables that. Challenges aside, let's look at the glass half full at this point. What are the a-ha moments that you all discovered that the tech helped you achieve? I mean, what turned out better than you expected or surprised you about CES 2021?

Karen Chupka:

Well, I think first of all, it was a little bit of that excitement that the industry put into it. I mean, we built a platform for this show, but obviously having exhibitors come and be prepped and put together their showcases was really interesting to watch. And it was interesting to see how they really were able to tell the stories about their products and how they put those to life in a digital world. And I think many of those were really high quality productions and high quality pieces that were put together.

Karen Chupka:

And for me, knowing that a lot of this happened within a two-month time, I mean, it was really impressive to see how the industry came together to really celebrate what was happening from a technology standpoint, to tell their stories and even to see how the startups did that. I mean, we had over 680 startups come to CES 2021. And to even just see how they creatively helped put their messaging together and helped make their showcases stand out was interesting and really exciting to watch. Gary?

Gary Shapiro:

Well, there were several moments for me, even before the event, just a couple of weeks before, when we realized that we might have to cut off the number of companies, because we'd planned for a thousand, we ended up with almost 2,000 companies that wanted to showcase what they could do and reach the industry, the global industry.

Gary Shapiro:

Also, the fact that we could do things, because we're totally digital. We changed the show days to give everyone another week. We extended the platform by another 30 days. So, it goes to February 15. So anyone who's preregistered can go on and see the conference that they missed, or even contacting, have communication and meetings with exhibitors. So, it was great. And even how the keynotes and major sessions were produced, phenomenal. I mean, there is excitement to a live event, but the pre-produced events even were so incredible, every keynote, and it got even bigger coverage as it went outside our platform.

Gary Shapiro:

But, for example, Mary Barra, during the GM keynote, GM stock went up almost 10% as she was speaking. And that is the kind of power that CES has when it goes globally and digitally. And that's why we're pretty excited about going forward in 2022 with the best of what we have digitally.

Tyler Suiters:

What about those keynotes? And Gary, you cite GM and Mary Barra, and the big reveal of GM's new logo and this decided turn toward electrification. But you look at the keynote lineup right out of the box and listing everyone in order, Hans Vestberg in Verizon, Mary Barra, GM, Dr. Lisa Su, AMD and Corie Barry, Best Buy. Those are your first four keynoters, four major CEOs of global brands. It's got to be easier to pull that together, not having to get such high level CEOs in one physical space at roughly the same time.

Gary Shapiro:

Absolutely. We also had the CEO of Walmart for the first time. People were eager to speak at CES, because of the global audience. And frankly, it was a little bit easier for them, because they didn't have to travel to Las Vegas and they could have a more controlled environment. But we also have live press conferences, at least the question and answer portion, and we had live events that spotlighted companies, where they did demonstrations. Companies approached the event differently, depending upon what their needs were, how adventurous they were.

Gary Shapiro:

And as Karen said, they did it really quickly in two months and they all produced quality presentations, which will still exist and have a life after the show. What we've done is extend a sense that four or five days CES to now over 30 days. But I think it'll just keep growing in terms of the duration and the value that we have in terms of our impact, not to mention the magnification by the huge amount of media coverage we got.

Tyler Suiters:

Karen, you mentioned the idea of serendipity at a physical CES, and it's part of the magic of being at the show. Inevitably, that changes in an all digital platform, especially with sessions in conference and meetings and things being prerecorded, at least for public viewing. How does that change the experience? I think we're all used to it by now, after going digital for almost a year, since the pandemic struck in the US, but what did that mean for CES 2021?

Karen Chupka:

I think that one of the interesting things I got probably, I think the day after I got back from the show was an email from one of our exhibitors, or actually it was an attendee who said, "Great show, really great experience. In fact, I met somebody new via chat. They sent me a chat message and we connected, and I think we're probably going to be able to do business together in the future." And I really didn't expect that to happen on a digital platform.

Karen Chupka:

And I think that was what, like I said, we really tried to bring as far as the value of what we were trying to build there. And you had to opt in and decide that you were going to be public in the attendee directory, you had to take a chance and go out and chat with people and try to strike up some conversations. And we did see people doing that.

Karen Chupka:

I think the other thing that was fun to watch was that as the Anchor Desk was live, we also had a chat feature there. And it was interesting because, the first day of the show, you saw people saying, "Hi from China. Hi, from Korea. Hi from Kansas." I mean, people from all over the world basically saying, "Hi, I'm here." And then as the days went on, you started seeing people saying, "Hey, come check out my product." Or, "Hey, I just announced this."

Karen Chupka:

So then it became a different way of sharing information. And again, this was something that was something that was driven by serendipity of what people were learning how to use the platform and learning how to bring more attention to their selves or their products. And at the end of the day, that's really what we were hoping to do, was to help people connect.

Tyler Suiters:

Yeah. And so, the Anchor Desk was essentially news programming throughout the heart of CES with key interviews of exhibitors and global companies, leaders, and recaps, and looks at conference sessions and keynotes and real deep dives into CES 2021. And in fairness, in years past too, and you're right, that organic chat where everyone started just checking in, "Hi from," fill-in-the-blank country or city or state was cool.

Tyler Suiters:

And then you did see the elevator pitch evolve from what's traditionally a 30-second verbal pitch into 200 characters or less. It's a different way of doing business. Gary, over to you now, because you're involved in so many of those business conversations and there, while deals are getting done at CES, you go in with one idea of what an all-digital show would look like. What are the takeaways, the lessons you learned about how it actually manifested, how it came together and how that changed from the original vision of what you thought it might be?

Gary Shapiro:

Well, for us, it was a real challenge, because we are great at producing big physical events every year, but we had very little experience producing a digital event. And it was gratifying for me to see how Karen and Jean Foster, Head of Marketing, and pull together a lot of different people from different areas, even from our Human Resources Department or our Membership Department, Accounting, others, that they took on different tasks, they learned different skills, they stepped up, they volunteered, they worked really hard and they had to do it under a lot of pressure for things they were uncomfortable with.

Gary Shapiro:

I think it's fair to say that everyone in our team developed different skills and that's what this pandemic has done to us, in a sense, it's forced us to do things we're uncomfortable with just, frankly, to survive. And the digital transformation has definitely accelerated.

Gary Shapiro:

It's been positive, in a sense, that we're moving forward in the use of technology. And we're also discovering how human we really are, because there's one thing in almost every interview I had with a journalist, I was able to, they'd say, "I used to grumble about going to Las Vegas. I really miss it. I miss seeing the people. I miss running into people. I miss doing all these things." And as fabulous as this digital experience was in stretching us out. I look forward to going back to Las Vegas, going back to other conferences and events and seeing people and discovering them, and actually even seeing our own staff, our own employees, and obviously my friends and relatives and everything that we've been depriving ourselves from.

Gary Shapiro:

And technology is great, but the video screen, it's a great substitute and it's allowed us to keep our economy going and our event and our staff and everything else, but it doesn't replace live human interactions. We may not get to hugs and handshakes by CES 2022, and we may be wearing masks, we'll certainly have all these great new practices for hygiene. And maybe there'll be certain restrictions, countries may have, others may have, we'll just deal with them.

Gary Shapiro:

But my great hope is that we can return to being human again and seeing each other and discovering things and getting that five-sense experience where we look at an exhibit, we can really get a sense for what the company is, kind of those discussions, you bump into people, you do things and we're all missing that I think as humans. That was my biggest takeaway, if you want to know the truth in this experience is that, you don't know what you are missing until you lose it. And we've all lost it as a world, in a sense, these last several months. And I think we're all kind of ready to get back.

Tyler Suiters:

Yeah, we did see a lot of that in the media coverage, too. Some of the journalists who go year after year to CES talked about what they missed and how different the week was, and that they can't wait to get back, which I think emphasizes your point, Gary. Karen, what about you, you and your team bring some 170,000 people together in Las Vegas every year, more than 4,500 exhibitors, no one was physically going or being brought anywhere for CES 2021. What's your takeaway?

Karen Chupka:

I think it was a couple things, which is that, I mean, obviously you have to approach this completely different than you would a live event. And you saw that with how we put the programs together. I mean, typically at a CES, we have over 300 sessions that take place over the course of the four days of the show. We whittled that down to about 100 sessions for the digital format. Just because there's only so much content you can push out. We also had to lessen the formats, meaning what is typically an hour conference session was cut to 30 minutes or sometimes maybe 40 minutes if it had many panel members on it. So, that was one thing.

Karen Chupka:

I think the other lesson learned is, it was not just us who were also having to think about this differently. It was also all of our exhibitors. And so there was also a huge learning curve with them, not only on how to put this together, but also just on how to use the tools and how to activate their showcases and how to just even upload their materials so that they could have a showcase. And a lot of that work was really done in the last four weeks.

Karen Chupka:

And so, I think most of our customers are used to that crunch time, but it was a different crunch time this time. And we were asking them to do things that, in some instances, they weren't comfortable with, which means, which I'm talking about in those senses, the spotlight sessions, which were live sessions that were being run right there and right then. And so, I think it was also just having those tools and resources available to help them along. That was one of the big lessons learned.

Karen Chupka:

And I think the other thing that is a little secret that I don't think we ever really told anybody about was that the entire day two of the show was run on a generator, because there was a huge storm that came through and we lost power again. I mean, that power thing seems to happen sometimes with us. But this was the fact that we woke up, our hotel had power, but as we started driving over to the studios, realizing that there was trees down, power down, we get to the campus and half of the campus is dark and we're running on generator.

Karen Chupka:

And that was one of those thank you moments that we picked the right partner who happened to have a full generator ready to go and could run a studio and all that content that we did for the last 24 hours of the day. So, that was a big lesson learned, which is always be prepared even in a digital world.

Tyler Suiters:

There was drone video sent by the city of Las Vegas, a drone going down the strip and one lighted up a sign after another saying, "We miss you CES." A big virtual hug in recognition that, as we said at the outset, this is a very different year for CES and certainly for Las Vegas. You all are so personally and deeply connected to Las Vegas and have had that relationship for decades now. How did it strike you? And Gary, let's start with you. What was your reaction to that real outpouring of longing for what was normal?

Gary Shapiro:

Well, to me, Las Vegas is the best convention city in the world. It has more hotel rooms than any city in the Americas. It has three of the 10 largest convention centers and we use all of them. And I know the most difficult part of 2020 for me was that one phone call to Las Vegas to say, that Karen and I were on that we just had to give them news before it broke publicly, that we wouldn't be using them in 2021 January.

Gary Shapiro:

And I know how much they were looking forward to us as breaking the virus. So, the fact that they've responded so positively and understanding, and just did that extra effort there so that they value the relationship. It was really, really nice. They're so good at what they do. I don't think Seattle will be where we would have a physical CES. I mean, it's great for a digital one, but Las Vegas is our city. And it's a wonderful partnership to be around, but they're hurting now. And the fact that we contributed to the hurt just breaks my heart. But we hope to make up to them in years to come by continuing to be in Vegas and having a strong, global event based in Las Vegas.

Tyler Suiters:

Karen.

Karen Chupka:

Yeah, I think that was such a touching moment, because I think, especially it was that Sunday night that they did it, right before press day. And it was very touching, because we were also seeing the reporters starting to write their own stories about how much they missed taking that airplane ride to Las Vegas. And all of the little things that we come to know and love about being in Vegas, on our feet all, for four days of a trade show.

Karen Chupka:

And so, it was this buildup of everybody having that same feeling of just being sad about the fact that this tradition was broken, something that we -- I had done for most, I don't know, 30 years, Gary more-

Gary Shapiro:

Thanks, Karen.

Karen Chupka:

I know, wow. But anyways, so there was this lead up, and then all of a sudden we saw this, like you said, this virtual hug from Las Vegas and it was lovely to see, and it was touching to see, but it also was hard because it is, I mean, the city itself right now is having a tough time. I mean, so many workers there are not able to work because trade shows aren't back yet.

Karen Chupka:

And so, it was also bringing that to light again too. But, as Gary said, this is an important city to us. We've been there since 1978. I mean, we were so excited to potentially be the first show to get to use the brand new West Hall that is opening this month. And so, we're very much looking forward to going back and helping to bring everybody back together and have that live moment again. And I think the good news is, we'll also be able to bring now some of our digital expertise together with that and make it even a better show come 2022.

Tyler Suiters:

Wrapping up now, let's talk about CES 2022. There are no absolutes, no guarantees. And Gary, when you were talking about the years ahead, you were very careful to qualify them with ifs and all the necessary conditionals. What does CES 2022 look like at this stage to both of you? What will it be?

Gary Shapiro:

The future is not going to be purely digital events. It's going to be what we believe is hybrid. We'll take the best of what we learned and can do in digital. And I will back up a little bit and say, one of our guidelines for doing what we did digitally was we did not try to do everything. We did not have AR and VR and 3D and all sorts of stuff. We wanted it to be a strong event, doing some things great. And that was our goal.

Gary Shapiro:

And now, in terms of going forward, I think we're going to have to be realistic because to produce a physical event with the quality that we're known for, that meets the needs of the industry and focuses on innovation and breakthroughs, and also enhancing it digitally, which allows us to reach people in the world that we couldn't otherwise get to Las Vegas.

Gary Shapiro:

I think we're going to have to be thinking through very carefully about what works, what doesn't and what's, frankly, just resources, not only of us, but of our customers and our exhibitors. It's what they want to do as well. And we, of course, as we do in every show we survey, every constituency and this year's survey is really different, because it really focuses on the digital event and what worked and what they'd like to see in the future. And we're going to be looking at those results very carefully. Plus we have a whole bunch of data to look at based on the people who were there, how they spent time, what they did and what they wanted and what they couldn't do that they wanted to do.

Tyler Suiters:

Karen.

Karen Chupka:

Yeah, I think for CES 2022, I mean, we did start selling the show early this year. We started having exhibitors take space in the fall. And right now we have, it's well over a million square feet sold. So, there's a lot of interest in coming in and being in the show. We are assuming that we will need social distancing measures in place. And so, we have drawn the floor plans to allow for that and give some additional space.

Karen Chupka:

I mean, that's where there's the benefit of having the new building is that we have additional space that enables us to do that. And I think that there is that... The one thing that I heard people say this week was, "Wow, those products were cool, that were launched. I just wish I could touch them." And so, I think that the excitement of being able to be alive again and touch things is really important.

Karen Chupka:

But I also think that there are some really cool things that we were able to do in the digital world that we'll want to bring to the live event too. And some of that has to do with the connections that people were able to make. And even the fact that we were able to have a way for attendees to connect with each other, which we haven't been really able to do in the live world. So, I think that there'll be some really good lessons that we'll learn and we'll be able to bring in into the event and I'm excited about it.

Karen Chupka:

I'm excited that we'll get to, again, see some new innovations. I'm excited that I think people will also look differently at how they even come to the show and how they activate at the show. I mean, this is one of the things we're looking at, just even in our survey questions is understanding a little bit about what's the value of both, because I think that there probably are going to be exhibitors that are going to want to continue with some form of a digital presence as well. And so, we want to make sure that we're really looking at that from a holistic picture, so that there's a positive experience for everyone to have as a result of what we learned from 2021 and what we could do better in 2022.

Tyler Suiters:

Karen Chupka is the Executive Vice President of CES. Gary Shapiro is the President and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association. Congratulations to you both on CES 2021 and CES 2022, sure does sound exciting already. Thank you both for taking time today.

Gary Shapiro:

Thank you for the opportunity.

Karen Chupka:

Thank you.

Tyler Suiters:

That is a wrap for this edition of CES Tech Talk and a wrap for this season of CES Tech Talk. So glad you could be with us. And look, if you missed any of our podcast episodes running up to CES 2021, they're all available for you on download or streaming, just go to your favorite podcast platform. And for all of you, CES attendees, and registrants, you can see all the content from CES 2021 through February 15 of this year. So, if you missed a conference session, a panel discussion, a keynote, a product unveil, it's all there on the CES 2021 platform. Just check out the content before or by February 15.

Tyler Suiters:

Now, it's not too early to talk about what lies ahead. The dates for CES 2022, January 5-8, we are planning to see you in Las Vegas for a hybrid event, CES 2022. Again, those dates January 5-8. As always, nothing about this podcast would be remotely possible without our true stars, Executive Producer Jennifer Drogus, our Assistant Producer, Kristen Nemeroff ,and our Senior Studio Engineer, John Lindsey, you all are the best in the business. I'm Tyler Suiters. Let's talk tech again soon.

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