CES 2021, a Work in Progress, Explores How Tech Is Reshaping Post-Pandemic World

CTA Viewing Sources 2018-2020
(Image credit: CTA)

“Global technology adoption is in fast forward” thanks to the pandemic, according to Steve Koenig, vice president-market research at the Consumer Technology Association. At a virtual “CES Unveiled” program at which he previewed Tech Trends that will be presented during the virtual CES in January, Koenig cited the Disney+ streaming service (which reached the 50 million subscriber level in five months compared to Netflix, which took seven years to hit that mark) and the explosion of e-commerce deliveries (eight weeks this spring equal to growth during the industry’s first 10 years). Similar usage velocity is going on in telemedicine (especially virtual appointments) and remote learning, Koenig said.

A new CTA study, “Content in the COVID-19 Era,” previewed at the “Unveiled” program, found that 24% of U.S. homes added at least one paid streaming video subscription during summer, and 65% of homes watch video content “more often since the COVID-19 pandemic began.”

Koenig’s presentation, drawn from recent CTA field research, was part of a parade of pre-CES developments during the past week – including the announcement that Microsoft will provide the platforms and underlying technology for the virtual exhibits and presentations of CES 2021, Jan. 11-14.

The week’s activities included a four-hour online media showcase of 45 exhibitors – most of which usually have CES floor booths – including TiVO, Roku, TCL and Lenovo. That event, run by marketing agency Pepcom and structured as a Holiday tech-shopping preview, offered a glimpse of the mixture of pre-recorded materials, live Zoom segments and links to each exhibitor’s website plus other resources that may become part of the January electronics extravaganza.   

CTA’s virtual “CES Unveiled” program replaced the European tour of previous years at which the Association’s top executives visited Paris, Amsterdam and other cities, where locally-based exhibitors (who are headed to Las Vegas) display and describe their ’wares while regional industrial development officials talk up innovation and high tech in their counties. This year’s virtual “Unveiled” condensed all those events into a three-hour program (mostly pre-recorded) with enthusiastic explanations from CTA officials, national economic development or political figures and corporate executives from France, Germany and the Netherlands. Each of them discussed encouraging outlooks for technology products as global innovators transform their businesses for operations after the pandemic ends.

The presentations by Koenig and CTA Research Director Lesley Rohrbough emphasized the scale of post-pandemic development in tech-related sectors. Drawing on the inspiration of British economist Christopher Freeman (“Innovation accelerates … during economic downturns” which ushers in “powerful new waves of technical change” during recovery), the CTA researchers focused on “Intelligence of Things” products and services, including smart cities, digital health, robotics and artificial intelligence/machine learning.

Using data from CTA’s new report “COVID-19 Impact on Innovation” (completed last month), Koenig cited the development of public safety services, public information dashboards and alert systems as well as virtual health projects (especially telemedicine) that have been rapidly implemented during the past six months.

Many of them will require telecom connections.

For example, CTA concludes that devices such as “sanitizing robots” (which clean and disinfect public and business/home spaces) will encourage a return to work at “smarter, safer buildings.” Koenig also pointed to quicker acceptance of virtual and augmented reality collaboration tools “to facilitate live events and meetings.”

Adding Home Content Sources

The new CTA reports include comparison with 2018 data, showing the growth of paid streaming video services (up from 52% of U.S. households in 2018 to 71% now) and the decline in cable/satellite/fiber homes (73% two years ago and 58% now).  DVD/Blu-ray and over-the-air TV usage remained relatively constant during the two years.

Not surprisingly, CTA’s study found that “remote working is changing the global workforce”. Although the U.S. shift (4% work from home before COVID-19; 52% during COVID) was dramatic, the Netherlands went from 14% to 58% while France went from 5% to 25%. 

CTA Work from Home

(Image credit: CTA)

Microsoft To Supply Virtual CES Platform

Although CTA didn’t disclose its full program plan for the virtual CES on January 11-14 during the “Unveiled” event, a few days later it announced its major platform decision. On Thursday (October 22), CTA said it will create an “event experience” using a package of technologies from Microsoft (a member company), including Microsoft Azure, Microsoft Teams and Microsoft Dynamics 365 to deliver “an exhibitor showcase, media events, conference programming, networking events and more.”

CTA president/CEO Gary Shapiro said it selected Microsoft “after a rigorous search process … because of its technical expertise, global scale and experience.”  The virtual show – which substitutes for the annual Las Vegas electronics-palooza attracting about 180,000 attendees – will be structured differently this year:

  • January 11 (Monday): Exclusive media-only access.
  • January 12-13: Exhibitor showcase and conference programming.
  • January 14: Conference programming.

Registration will open on December 1. CTA said it will disclose more details of the program in coming weeks.  So far it has announced keynotes from Verizon chairman/CEO Hans Vestberg, AMD president/CEO Dr. Lisa Su and General Motors chairman/ and CEO Mary Barra.

Pepcom Holiday Showcase

(Image credit: Pepcom)

As more details of the program and exhibition set-up are developed, there was a preview of what’s to come at a media-only “Holiday Preview” online showcase on Wednesday (October 21), run by Pepcom, a marketing promotion agency that sets up a showcase for a couple hundred exhibitors on one night during CES in Las Vegas. 

For this week’s four-hour event, about 45 companies – ranging from video companies such Roku, TiVO and TCL to computer makers (Lenovo) and an eclectic mix of smart home, health, communications accessories and gizmos such as vaping gear – showed their ’wares. The virtual exhibits had links to product videos, private chat rooms, spec sheets and other limited exhibit options, with a few live product demonstrations. Since this was not an official CTA event, it is unclear how this format is a harbinger of how (or if) the companies will participate in the virtual CES. 

Several exhibitors told me they haven’t yet decided how to structure their roles at CES.

Disclosure: I have had an editorial, conference and exhibit tour management relationship with CTA for many years.

Gary Arlen

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.