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EVENT REPORT

2001-2011: How C.E.S. Became the World’s Largest Tech Show

Photo: Courtesy of Consumer Electronics Association

It’s hard to overstate the impact of an event like the International Consumer Electronics Show, the world’s largest annual consumer technology trade show. Owned and produced by the Consumer Electronics Association each January at the Las Vegas Convention Center, C.E.S. is known as the biggest gadget expo anywhere (drawing 2,700 exhibitors), with the buzziest product debuts and biggest-name keynotes, and the full attention of media far and wide (about 5,000 outlets in all these days). Further, C.E.S. is the kind of event (not unlike the Olympics or Super Bowl) that actually transforms the landscape of a city, filling local event and entertainment venues, monopolizing taxis, and giving hotel room rates—which have notoriously suffered in recession-weary Vegas—a bump from dozens of dollars a night midweek to hundreds.

Most significantly, C.E.S. generates major business that translates into big dollars. “C.E.S. exhibitors generate more than half a billion dollars as a direct result of the show, and each attendee conducts an average of 12 meetings while at C.E.S., making it the most efficient travel-budget saver imaginable,” said Karen Chupka, senior vice president of events and conferences of the Consumer Electronics Association. “As the show’s producer, our goal is to evolve and grow C.E.S. by showcasing the latest innovation from all aspects of the consumer electronics industry. The show reflects the innovative spirit of the industry, and we strive to bring the most cutting-edge technologies and thought-provoking speakers to the C.E.S. stage to ensure the International C.E.S. remains a must-attend event.”
 

The show in its current winter format (it was once a twice-yearly event) is remarkable in part for its sheer size—which was challenged in recent years but has bounced back. By 2006, attendance was at more than 150,000 people in 1.67 million net square feet of space, and the 2008 exhibition drew 141,150 attendees.

A year later the exhibition attracted 113,085 attendees, a 22 percent drop attributed to the global financial crisis. But in a testament to the show’s widely known ability to generate business, the 2010 outing broke a record by reeling in 330 first-time exhibitors, an indicator that the downturn motivated challenged companies to get their products in front of C.E.S. attendees.

The record breaking continued this year, with the 2011 exhibition drawing 31,677 industry professionals from outside the U.S., up 30 percent from last year. An independent audit, performed by Veris Consulting L.L.C., confirmed C.E.S.’s status as the world’s largest consumer technology trade show and North America’s largest annual trade show of any kind. Overall, the 2011 International C.E.S. welcomed 149,529 technology attendees during its four-day run.
C.E.S. is also a standout show for its consistent news-making and -breaking over the years: In 2005, Bill Gates’s keynote demo famously went wrong when he encountered a blue error screen; in 2008, he gave the preshow keynote speech, in which he formally announced his retirement from his day-to-day duties at Microsoft, along with a celeb-heavy skit.


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