With an appropriate emphasis on broadband – especially 5G wireless technology – along with a timely focus on cybersecurity, streaming media and an expanded examination of content, the first-ever all-virtual CES 2021 is ready to roll next month.
The Consumer Technology Association, producer of the electronic extravaganza, which is usually held in Las Vegas in early January, is still cobbling together details for the Jan. 11-14 online convention. It has not yet revealed details, for example, of its public policy program, which usually features top FCC, FTC, Transportation Department and Congressional officials and staff members.
However, in keeping with the current developments in cybersecurity – such as the alleged foreign hacking of U.S. government and corporate networks – CTA just announced a keynote presentation by Microsoft President Brad Smith, who has been a highly visible spokesman during recent weeks discussing the digital intrusion; Smith has also been Microsoft’s face for its push to convince the FCC to allocate broadcast white spaces for a “Rural Broadband Initiative.”
Other cybersecurity speakers will include Damien Kieran, Twitter’s chief privacy officer, Keith Enright, Google’s chief privacy officer and Anne Toth, director-Alexa Trust at Amazon.
Verizon Chairman and CEO Hans Vestberg will deliver the CES 2021 kickoff keynote address, discussing 5G as the framework of the 21st century. Other sessions include “Broadband for All,” “Connected Cities” (examining smart cities, a favorite CTA objective) plus detailed sessions about 5G and mobile communications.
Karen Chupka, CTA’s Executive VP, CES, calls “CES the hub for 5G” and characterizes 5G as “driving innovation.”
On the content front, Ann Sarnoff, chair/CEO of WarnerMedia Studios and Networks Group has just joined the CES line-up. On a separate program, iHeartMedia will run a conference session on how technology is enabling talent to continue to create and introduce music and immersive experiences during the pandemic. Ryan Seacrest (producer and on-air host) will run the session, which will include a “fireside chat” with singer/songwriter Dua Lipa and a special performance by Billie Eilish.
The “C Space” track of conference sessions will examine content development from both the advertiser/marketer viewpoint as well as “next-gen” consumers.
Chupka along with CTA President/CEO Gary Shapiro and Jean Foster, senior VP of marketing and communications, explained the design of CES 2021, at an online news conference in mid-December. Microsoft has created the platform which will enable virtual booth visits, private meetings and a simulation of random corridor encounters. The “live” on-demand conference sessions and booth visits will be available from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. ET daily. Recorded versions will remain available through Feb. 15. Both time frames give global visitors more time to check out the array of CES “digital activations,” according to Foster.
Instead of bumping into friends in the convention center or hotel corridors and aisles, CTA and Microsoft said they have set up an attendee directory which will enable random encounters in hallways that are comparable to the live environment. In addition, the entire platform will be searchable by keywords.
The CES program will be produced as a combination of live and pre-recorded presentations, many of them to be produced during the coming week to make them as timely as possible before “show dates.” Using automated and real-time translation systems, the presentations will be available in 16 languages, including American Sign Language.
The CTA leadership team continually encouraged “early registration” (until Jan. 3). The flat fee to attend all CES 2021 programs (including about 100 conference sessions plus access to exhibits and private meeting rooms) is $149, which will go up to $499.
No Sore Feet, But Scaled-Back Event
Reflecting the online environment, most CES sessions will be much shorter than at in-person events – often about 20 to 30 minutes long, even for panel discussions.
CTA seems to be adjusting the expected turnout for the scaled-down virtual event. Shortly after announcing initial plans, the association indicated that the online programs would attract about 150,000 attendees and 1,500 exhibitors (both numbers significantly smaller than the 180,000 and 4,500 comparables last January).
Recent announcements suggest about 100,000 virtual visitors and “more than 1,000” exhibitors.
The agenda calls for Monday Jan. 11 as a Media Day for reporters to receive new product briefings from about two dozen exhibitors. Virtual exhibits and conference sessions will be spread out over Tuesday through Thursday (Jan. 12-14) and most videos will remain available on-demand through Feb. 15.
The CES package will feature a live anchor desk with four tech journalists operating a “central command” to help attendees navigate the digital experience, hear the latest news and watch interviews. The featured anchors are Justine Ezarik (iJustine), host and tech content creator; Rich DeMuro, tech reporter for KTLA-TV/Los Angeles; Naomi Kyle, actress, producer and host of Star Trek’s The Ready Room on CBS; and Brian Tong, tech host and content creator.
CTA said it made a “seven-figure investment” to develop the platform, which includes artificial/mixed reality components.
“We wanted to invest in the value of the connections,” Chupka explained. “You will see artificial intelligence enabling the platform, including streaming videos. We really wanted this to be an easy user experience, so we didn’t go into the technology that would be interesting to see” but may have been confusing.
Looking toward 2022, Shapiro predicted that “We’ll go back to Las Vegas,” but he also expects CES will continue as a hybrid digital event.
“The pandemic has demonstrated value of tech, especially broadband – not just for home office but for everything in your home that has to do with technology,” Shapiro said. During the video briefing session, he made several references to the need to develop public policies to support broadband, citing the nature of smart cities.
Shapiro acknowledged that this first effort “won’t be the best possible [but] we’ll learn from it.
Exhibitors for CES 2021 include tech giants such as Canon, Hisense, Intel, Lenovo, LG Electronics, Panasonic, Philips, Sony, Samsung Electronics, TCL and Voxx, as well as non-traditional tech companies including Bridgestone, Caterpillar, Indy Autonomous Challenge, John Deere, L’Oréal and Procter & Gamble.
Disclosure: I have been a paid consultant, managing CES programs for several years; I have no involvement in the CES 2021 agenda.
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Contributor Gary Arlen is known for his insights into the convergence of media, telecom, content and technology. Gary was founder/editor/publisher of Interactivity Report, TeleServices Report and other influential newsletters; he was the longtime “curmudgeon” columnist for Multichannel News as well as a regular contributor to AdMap, Washington Technology and Telecommunications Reports. He writes regularly about trends and media/marketing for the Consumer Technology Association's i3 magazine plus several blogs. Gary has taught media-focused courses on the adjunct faculties at George Mason University and American University and has guest-lectured at MIT, Harvard, UCLA, University of Southern California and Northwestern University and at countless media, marketing and technology industry events. As President of Arlen Communications LLC, he has provided analyses about the development of applications and services for entertainment, marketing and e-commerce.