OK, I kind of want this to be a genuine discussion topic, not simply an excuse for spleen venting or attacks on people, places, or things. But there are grumblings within the audio industry that need voicing in the wake of this year’s CES.
In short: where was everyone?
The show in a wider context was more successful than ever. More than 170,000 attendees visited the various halls and exhibition spaces scattered across Las Vegas; simply moving from one to another was to surf through a human sea of alpha geeks. The local news was, as ever, ablaze with the hottest new products from the show. However, the Specialty Audio section in the Venetian Tower was empty. If there were 170,000 visitors at CES then the Specialty Audio section got maybe a half of one per cent of the total number of visitors, if we are being very liberal with the numbers. Visitors to the audio section have been dwindling in recent years, but they dropped off a cliff between 2015 and 2016.
It wasn’t even in decline because of the soaring prices. The show is a trade event, and that trade is OK with dealing with products at high and low prices, but that trade was staying away in droves. Moreover this year, CES exhibitors at the Venetian Tower pitched up with a lot of high-performance, lower-cost products that would attract more than the usual high-ender community, and many of these products were touted to the wider media world. But that wider media world largely stayed away, too (Wired sent a two-man team to a handful of companies, and picked up Bang & Olufsen, Naim Audio, Sony, and Technics in the audio sector, but that was one of the rarities). Understandably, with thousands of exhibits on show, most never had time to leave the Las Vegas Convention Center.
There are possible reasons for this. First, and perhaps most encouragingly for the audio industry, CES has been eclipsed in our field by other shows; With possibly more than 10x the number of visitors than to the Venetian towers, Munich High-End is the most important of these challengers, but also Axpona, T.H.E. Show Newport Beach, and The Rocky Mountain Audio Fest in America, as well as shows in Hong Kong, Taiwan. Shenzhen, Beijing, and Singapore. International distributors are all looking to these events as more viable places where business in audio takes place.
In part, the success of these shows is predicated on the next possible reason for a disappointing CES. These are all shows with trade and public visitors. This not only adds significantly to the numbers attending a show, but gives buyers a hand’s on guide to what will and will not sell in the market far better than any forecasting, and in audio this free market research is extremely valuable. In past years, the combination of T.H.E. Show (first in what used to be the San Tropez hotel next door to the CES Specialty Audio event at Alexis Park), and until recently in the Flamingo hotel) and relatively lax entrance rules for CES ‘buyers’ meant the specialty audio section of the event was well populated by customers and trade alike. Gradually, as both CES toughened up its admissions policies, and Las Vegas realised just how much it can charge for a room during that first week in January, the public began to stay away and both shows began to feel deflated. I admit that I got this wrong: I though T.H.E. Show moving from Las Vegas to Newport Beach would make CES the ‘one-stop shop’ for audio events in America. Instead, it may have dealt it a death blow.