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Electronics industry zeroes in on Vegas, annual extravaganza

Many of the items to be found under the Christmas tree next December will first see light at this year’s International Consumer Electronics Show, Thursday through next Sunday in Las Vegas.

To take part in this annual celebration of technological innovation, you must be part of the consumer electronics industry. The show’s producer, the Consumer Electronics Association, invites only the press, vendors, dealers, buyers and investors.

What is CES?

It’s the Super Bowl of trade shows, expected to draw 130,000 people. This year’s exhibit space spans more than 1.7 million square feet. It would take 20 of the Convention Center’s Group Heath Exhibit Halls, the largest indoor space in downtown Spokane, to hold just the official part of CES.

Almost all of the meeting and exhibit space in Las Vegas is used for CES. Other events, such as Billboard’s Digital Music Live!, occur before the show starts. Plus there are private mini-shows for invited guests.

Attending CES is more like running a marathon than a sprint. The average person attends 12 meetings during the show. You jump from the Sands to the MGM to the Venetian. Even the walk from the North Hall to the South Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center is a hike.

Nearly every tech company of any size tries to be there. “Twenty-seven hundred companies, including more than 300 companies exhibiting for the first time, will be at CES 2009,” said Tara Dunion, senior director of communications for the show.

Dunion estimated 20,000 new products will be displayed, from entertainment to home control and automation to health care products.

It’s not all about the coolest, edgiest gear. CES has educational sessions and workshops, too. Stevie Wonder and the National Federation of the Blind will be there to talk about minor design improvements that allow blind and visually impaired people to use everyday products.

The Kids@Play conference at CES looks at how today’s digital toys and devices are preparing children for life in the 21st century.

At the other end of the age spectrum, the Silvers Summit conference features technology and services geared toward the boomer and beyond market.

CES history

The first CES took place in New York City in June 1967 with 200 exhibitors and 17,500 attendees. Since then CES has grown more than eleven-fold.

David Kaplan, executive director of the Digital Delivery Group in Seattle and a former buyer with Spokane-based Huppins-OneCall, has attended every show since 1977, when it was mostly a show for audio enthusiasts.

“Back in ’77 I was a college student selling stereos to pay for school. I couldn’t afford a plane ticket, so I drove…. I stayed at the Mini-Price Inn. I always thought it was the best career move I ever made.”

Products that have debuted at CES over the years include the VCR, the CD player, the DVD, HDTV, the Xbox and Blu-ray.

Why CES counts

Apple recently announced this January’s MacWorld event will be the company’s last. The company believes that direct contact with customers is the way to go.

In a time when companies can reach consumers directly through the Web, Kaplan said he believes CES still matters as a way of gaining a fuller picture of the latest products.

“I believe in face time. At CES you can speak to the marketing people, the development people, the executives – not just sales people. A WebEx (Web conference service) doesn’t let you touch product,” said Kaplan. “I cannot think of not being there; I book months in advance.”

Mark Olson, account manager with the gadget-focused Max Borges Agency, said, “We start working with our clients in late September and start touching the media in early November about what our clients will be doing at CES. The one thing CES gives our smaller clients is access to the same media pool as the big boys. They are all here at CES. A good CES can create a yearlong buzz.” Trying to become the next big thing is a goal of many of the exhibitors, including Cinedigm Digital Cinema, a tech company in New Jersey. Cinedigm will showcase its live 3-D cinema technology. On Thursday, it will use its CineLive system to present the BCS National Championship football game – the Oklahoma Sooners vs. the Florida Gators – in 80 theaters in 35 states.

The closest theater to Spokane that will have the game in 3-D is the Galaxy Uptown 10 Theater in Gig Harbor.

“We chose to showcase our CineLive at CES because of our strategy to increase consumer awareness of our Cinedigm brand in movie theaters. We want to have the same brand awareness that Dolby and IMAX have,” said Bud Mayo, CEO and founder of Cinedigm.

Wild prediction

It is a long tradition to make a predication or two before the show, so here are mine: Mattel will re-enter the video game console business with the Intellivision 2010, powered by the HAL core processor. New video games will be “Myst 2010” by hometown Cyan Worlds and “BurgerTime 4-D” with SurroundScent 5.1.

Doug Dobbins is a Spokane-based technology writer. His e-mail is Doug@takesontech.com.


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