TECH TALK: BILL MAGEE asks if big tech events have a future
One really has to feel for any bright tech start-up gambling on its entire future by cashing in hard-earned chips, probably some borrowed, to undergo a near 10,000-mile once in a commercial lifetime round trip to Las Vegas. Months of planning to finally roll up, somewhat bleary-eyed in person at the world’s largest consumer electronics trade show. Only to find there’s hardly anyone there.
CES 2022 was supposed to be where a fledgling IT hopeful’s commercial aspirations were transformed by hitting the radar of a Big Tech venture capital early-stage investor. Instead, they were welcomed by an endless array of video screens, wherever they looked, mostly showing off electric cars.
For the second year organisers were forced to drastically cut back the event and go virtual because of a resurgent global pandemic, but many alterations were left until the last minute. One observer described the tech show as “soulless.” It raises a question: what’s the point of such tech conferences?
North American Evan Wilson, with a Scots mother and settled in Scotland, going freelance this month as a senior IT engineer and project manager, after 14 years with the same tech company, believes CES has had its day.
He told me: “There’s definitely a certain irony in such tech conferences being held in person given technology has made remote attendance possible. I can easily see such events moving to the ‘metaverse’ in future years.”
CES is one of those events he has always viewed as a “sort of pseudo-holiday” for enterprise level companies with endless budgets. “I’ve never quite understood their value, also with travel and entry it’s cost-prohibitive.”
Pandemic times and rising travel costs will see people less inclined to market themselves there as larger corporations move to virtual-only. During his spell as a senior solutions manager he did give a nod to CES: “Thankfully, I never attended.”
CES 2022 organisers admitted to “big gaps in the show floor” shortening the event by a day but preserving as much “in person” involvement as possible. Typically, it’s all about “dollars and cents” as in normal times the event contributes more than £150 million a year to Vegas coffers.
By far, the biggest financial investment comes from tech multinationals’ corporate spend but an A-to-Z from Amazon to Verizon with Microsoft and Google in the middle, pulled out in their droves opting for solely visual.
CES is considered the proving ground for breakthrough technologies. It’s well and truly baked into the digital calendar as an event where Big Tech must be seen, especially by competitors.
In normal CES times, around 180,000 attendees tramp through 2.9 million square feet of exhibition space along with numerous conference and panel keynotes, a monolith leading to a distinct feeling of being disconnected. I know this at first hand as one of the global press corps (one-time only) traipsing around cavernous halls, hour after hour, and hardly the occasional bar in between (for an expresso three-shot, of course).
Glasgow’s SECC, where the COP26 global climate change conference was recently staged in five interconnected exhibition and meeting rooms, represents a combined area a mere minnow at 236,800 square feet.
CES usually hosts around 2,200 exhibitors, mostly small companies, tucked into tiny booths costing up to £17,000 each. Goodness knows what the collective Big Tech spend is. As the Americans say “you do the math.”
Silicon Valley veteran coach and author Joe DiNucci claimed at an Oxford Union debate way back in 2010 that the Valley was “addicted to the fast-food of innovation” and that such a “tribal” profit-driven approach cannot be sustained.
He added the Valley shouldn’t need telling that it needs to take advantage of global, long-term opportunities, especially those caused by climate change.
A CES 2022 “hot area” was Facebook’s alter ego, the metaverse. Even though it is very early days for the imagined virtual-reality space, “touchy-feely” online connected T-shirts were marketed in abundance. No doubt, there’s an app for that.