The new normal for major events
No one expected this year’s CES to feel the same as the ones that have gone before it. After all, in the weeks leading up to the CES 2022, many key tech companies announced that they would not be attending in person, including Google, Microsoft, LG, Meta and Panasonic. Delegates from countries across the world wondered if they should fly to Las Vegas or attend virtually. Many chose the latter: while in 2020, when reports of a new virus were only just emerging from China, 170,000 people attended, this year there were only around 45,000. There were far fewer speaker and panel sessions this year, with some being cancelled last minute (Paris Hilton was a no-show for her talk on NTs), and the exhibition halls had empty spaces.
However, the lower attendance figures and lighter content agenda didn’t mean that this year’s show was a damp squib. There was certainly a feeling of muted excitement over the three days of CES. People were excited to be away, excited to be amongst other people, excited to feel human connection and get back to something resembling normal. The event felt like an experiment in the future of events: all delegates were fully masked at all times and had to show proof of vaccination to pick up their passes, while this year’s must-have swag was the humble rapid antigen test. Most speaker sessions were hybrid, with in-person as well as at-home audiences, while a number of panel sessions were also entirely virtual, with panellists dialling in from their home offices. It’s difficult to see events losing that hybrid element in the ‘new normal’.
The key themes from CES 2022
While CES covers a huge range of technology-related themes, there were a few that stood out this year – including one by its relative absence.
The metaverse… or not
This delegate went into CES expecting to have a plethora of sessions about the metaverse to choose from. Strangely, however, there were only a few, including an excellent one on the role of voice tech in the metaverse. We expect that this will be different at the 2023 event; who knows, we might even be able to attend CES in the metaverse soon!
AI is increasingly pervasive
Artificial Intelligence was, of course, everywhere – from a panel about AI policy to Samsung’s home assistant, AI has become the norm, with everyone from marketers to engineers incorporating it into their everyday work and indeed their everyday lives.
The proliferation of technology
The phrase ‘the acceleration of the technology curve’ was on everyone’s lips at CES 2022, as they reflected on how the pandemic has driven a proliferation of technology in our daily lives. Back in the pre-Covid days, work mostly took place at the office, shopping was normally done in the supermarket, at the mall or on the high street, and subscribing to streaming services was something that was more common amongst young people. Now, just two years later, a much greater percentage of our lives takes place online, including for those who were previously ‘tech-phobes’. This has led to greater opportunities for brands to interact and engage more meaningfully with their consumers, as highlighted in a session on how technology has flipped the consumer experience – more on that later.
Cars cars cars
Many attendees and commentators remarked wryly that the Consumer Electronics Show has become the world’s biggest car show, and with good reason. The whole of the Las Vegas Convention Center’s West Hall was dedicated to cars, with a focus on electric vehicles and autonomy. GM, for example, talked enthusiastically about its collaboration with Cruise to create an autonomous ride-hailing service, while the talk of the town and the exhibit that caught the attention of the international press, was BMW’s colour-changing car.
ECI’s highlights from CES 2022
While the content agenda was undoubtedly more sparsely populated than in 2020, and the exhibition hall had some rather large gaps, there was still a lifetime’s worth of knowledge to be learned at CES in 2022. Here are just some of our highlights from this year’s show.
Samsung is always one of the big players at CES, and this year was no exception. Vice-Chairman and CEO of Samsung Electronics, Jong-Hee (JH) Han took to the stage the night before the start of CES to talk about his company’s vision for the future. The ‘Together for Tomorrow’ platform empowers everyone to create positive change and is the driving force behind collaborations that address some of the planet’s most pressing challenges. This includes sustainability – the key topic of Han’s talk – and inclusivity. Han claimed that Samsung has looked at every step of a product’s journey, from manufacture to disposal, and is innovating at each stage to make the company more environmentally friendly and fit for the future.
One of the keynotes to take place during CES 2022 was on the tech trends that are required knowledge for business in the new normal. Qualcomm’s CMO Don McGuire pointed out that connectivity is now as pervasive as water and electricity, and that 5G is a unifying connectivity fabric which allows for scalability and impact far beyond download speeds. It will drive change in industries, communities and societies, driving the metaverse and the flexibility, openness and collaboration that comes with it. McGuire also talked about the acceleration of the technology curve (there’s that phrase again) and how brands need to harness advanced technology to engage more deeply, more naturally and yet not invasively with consumers.
The ‘Content to Commerce: How tech has flipped the consumer experience’ session was an example of how virtual speakers can speak successfully to an in-person audience. Marketing and digital leaders from McDonald’s, GM, Target, Instacart and Salesforce explained how that accelerated technology curve has driven real change in their relationships with their consumers. Target CMO Cara Sylvester said that the most exciting development driven by the increased uptake in tech was the deepening of relationships with their consumers through omnichannel retail experiences; offers are personalized and connection is based on an always-on approach, rather than an episodic one. GM’s Chief Digital Officer, Edward Kummer, explained that the tech had driven – and empowered – the company to serve customers how they want to be served, whether that’s solely in person, solely online, or a hybrid, omnichannel approach. All the panellists agreed that the pandemic had taught them that success lies in the ability to ‘perform while you transform’ – to continue to deliver top-quality products and services whilst simultaneously adapting to a rapidly changing landscape.
Perhaps surprisingly, one of the most powerful sessions for this writer was on the role of voice in the future of technology, specifically the metaverse. Abraham Gomez of Wild and West NFT and Matthew Barnett, Founder and President of the Dream Center in Los Angeles talked about the potential of the metaverse to help people in need. In the metaverse, barriers such as race, gender, wealth and class are dismantled, leaving only voice. By ‘hiding behind’ an avatar, people who struggle in the ‘real world’ with social and mental health problems might be more willing to talk about how they feel and what they need in order to live better lives – and the Dream Center, which has been given territory in the metaverse by the Sandbox, will be able to listen and provide that help. Considering that Gomez believes that we will spend the majority of our time in the metaverse (just think about how much time we spend on our phones right now), it’s encouraging to learn of its altruistic opportunities.
CES was a version of what it always has been – an exciting, heady mixture of tech, innovation, marketing and networking. That all those elements were slightly muted this year did not take away from the event’s importance: indeed, many – including organisers of other events such as SXSW – have seen this year’s CES as an important pioneer in the future of large events. While many of those who attended perhaps wondered briefly if they should be there, I’m sure that they all left feeling invigorated and inspired. I know I did.
Header image: Alex Matthews