What To Expect at the First-Ever Virtual CES

January 6, 2021
What To Expect at the First-Ever Virtual CES

Consumer Technology Association President Gary Shapiro’s wife is a doctor. In February 2020, she went in front of the organization’s board of directors and warned that the coronavirus would be nothing like anything we’ve experienced in our lifetime. At that moment, Shapiro knew that the next Consumer Electronics Show would be drastically different. “Everything she said turned out to be true,” Shapiro recalled on a video call on Microsoft Teams, among the suite of tools powering CES 2021, taking place Jan. 11-14.

That knowledge allowed for nearly a year’s worth of preparing for an all-digital show. Shapiro has no pretense that the experience will match what is accustomed to at arguably the world’s most celebrated technology showcase. Perhaps the biggest concern is that the show goes on without a hitch, given the high numbers and strain placed on internet infrastructure.

It’s hard to believe that this time last year, attendees from across the world were in Las Vegas for CES. Less unlikely is that the in-person experience returns at CES 2022. In between is a virtual show with no comparison—one that TSNN talked about with Shapiro to get a sneak peek.

What sort of numbers are you expecting for CES virtual?

We’re already over six figures in terms of registration. Over 40% of those are global, which is more than our normal percentages are. We have a guesstimate of 150,000 people, which is comparable to where our shows have been. We have over 1,000 exhibitors, approaching 2,000 when the pipeline comes in. We’re probably tapped out then because we don’t have the ability to deal with any more. 

How are you trying to manage attendance and maintain bandwidth to keep the show going smoothly?

The difference between global or international trade shows in the physical and digital format is that when you're attending a physical trade show, you get your plane tickets, your hotel reservations and you register, so you do things ahead of time. What's happened in the digital format, based on experience I've heard from others, is that people tend to register at the last minute. That concerns us greatly, which is why we tiered our pricing up. It goes up to almost $500 if you register at the end. 

What metrics are you going to rely on for evaluating this year’s show?

Obviously, the number of people that register and how long they stay. I’m trying to find out how much we can measure the actual engagement. We’re surveying afterward—we always do a lot of surveys post-show. We don’t have to ask a lot of questions we usually ask like, “how is the transportation and signage?” We’ll divide survey results by categories—media, exhibitors, attendees and by countries.  

How has the programming been adapted for an all-virtual experience?

We have such a well-recognized brand for quality of production at the physical event that we want to maintain the value of our brand. On the other hand, we don’t want to over-promise. The truth is you’re going to be in front of a screen – we can't recreate the excitement of Las Vegas, the gambling, the food, the shows, the lights, the buzz and physically seeing people. But we did try to accommodate for that with investment in the production quality, and most of the sessions will be 30 minutes rather than an hour. 

The exhibitors are investing in their own video presentations and have chat capability. What makes it unique is that we’re trying to add value to the experience by keeping it live for 30 days in the sense you can communicate with exhibitors. And we’ve created our own little LinkedIn for attendees, which is something we’ve always wanted to do.

Did you think about delaying CES to keep it in-person?

There was a brief flirtation for two minutes as to whether we could possibly move it back. We were thinking more about the Spring. A lot of groups have done that, and then kept delaying and delaying, so they didn't really move forward. We wanted to move forward and that January timeframe is important to a lot of people. The worst thing was not to go purely digital, it was to delay and cancel the event in November or December because you have all your costs sunk and no revenue. By June, we were pretty much down to digital-only and announced that to the world in July. 

What are your impressions of virtual trade shows produced during the pandemic?

We are kidding ourselves if we think we’re doing it right digitally as an industry. We’re not. A lot of the platforms are just not working. The return for exhibitors is just not there. Some of that is just missing the human connection but some of it is the platform themselves. So, we felt we had to break away and invest. We looked at the model of some corporate events, especially in the tech world, who are doing it right. Microsoft is one of those. They have the cloud, cybersecurity and they offer Microsoft Teams, which we are using now.

Are you already looking ahead to a more traditional CES next year?

We wanted to make sure we’re staying in the minds and budgets of our customers for early 2022. We’ve laid out floor plans and started listing exhibitors, and we’ve gotten a huge response to that. We’re calling the 2022 event a hybrid event—hopefully, we're in a position to do that. I think we will, based on the vaccines, which is the best news ever. The other good news is we’ll have a brand-new building [at the expanded Las Vegas Convention Center] and maybe another Boring tunnel. We've pretty much sold it out already.


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Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. There’s no ceiling to what you can do when you’re doing events in Las Vegas.  Allegiant Stadium As the trade show and convention business returns to the pre-pandemic levels, what shifts are you noticing and how do you think they will impact the industry going forward? Our trade show organizers are very focused on driving customer experience. Most of our organizers are reporting stronger exhibitor numbers and increased numbers of new exhibitors, with trade shows proving to be almost or above 2019 levels. Now our organizers are really doubling down on driving attendance and focusing on the data to provide that individualized, customized experience to help attendees meet their goals and get the best value. Some companies continue to be cautiously optimistic with their organizational spend when it comes to sending attendees, but I think it will continue to improve. As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. Last summer, Resorts World and The Boring Company opened the first resort stop at the Resorts World Las Vegas , with plans to expand throughout the resort corridor, including downtown Las Vegas, Allegiant Stadium and Harry Reid International Airport. The LVCVA also purchased the Las Vegas Monorail in 2020, the 3.9-mile-long elevated transportation system that connects eight resorts directly to the convention center campus. This is the only rail system in the world that integrates fares directly into show badges and registration. For trade show organizers, these transportation options mean saving time, money and effort when it comes to moving groups from the hotels to LVCC and around the city. Also, the more we can focus on building the infrastructure around the convention center, the more it supports the customer experience and ultimately supports our trade show organizers. Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.