Virtual CES 2021: Five Questions Answered About This Year’s Trade Show

Todd Spangler
·3 min read

For the first time in more than four decades, CES is skipping the neon playground of Las Vegas. Instead, because of the pandemic, the 2021 edition of the consumer electronics event will be an all-digital trade show. Here’s what to expect from this year’s CES, which runs Jan. 11-14.

How big will 2021 CES be?

It’s going to be smaller than usual. The Consumer Technology Assn., which produces CES, expects more than 1,000 exhibitors for the virtual show and will stream more than 100 hours of keynotes and other live programming over the main conference’s two days (Jan. 12-13). That’s compared with 4,400-plus exhibiting companies in 2020. CTA execs attribute the smaller scope to the digital format. “We knew we couldn’t run this for four days — we couldn’t keep people’s attention for that long,” says Jean Foster, CTA’s senior VP of marketing and communications.

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Will there be a virtual show floor?

Not exactly. CES attendees will log in to a personal profile and pick their interests, and then be able to schedule vendor meetings and attend live demos. In addition, on Jan. 11 more than 20 companies, including Sony, LG and Samsung, will hold online press conferences to announce new wares, including an expected slate of 4K and 8K HDTVs. A big topic at the 2021 show will be 5G, led by Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg’s Jan. 11 kickoff keynote. CTA chief Gary Shapiro says the trade org invested “seven figures” in the CES 2021 digital-venue platform, built by Microsoft. But, he acknowledges, “it’s really not the same as being there face-to-face.”

What entertainment events will be at CES?

The C Space media and marketing track, programmed by consulting firm MediaLink, will be headlined by a keynote conversation with Warner Bros. CEO Ann Sarnoff. “We’re all Zoomed out after 2020,” says Michael Kassan, CEO of MediaLink. “That said, we believe CES is an important part of the media, entertainment and marketing calendar.”

In addition, the annual Variety Entertainment Summit at CES will present a series of online sessions on Jan. 14 featuring top execs from WarnerMedia, HBO, Marvel, Disney, NBCUniversal, ViacomCBS, TikTok, Twitch and more. Visit this link for more info and to register.

What else is different this year?

CTA describes the show as being more of a broadcast event. To that end, it’s launching a livestreaming hub for news and interviews for Jan. 12-13. Shot from Microsoft’s production studios in Redmond, Wash., the news desk will be anchored by talent including YouTuber Justine “iJustine” Ezarik and Naomi Kyle, host of “Star Trek” after-show “The Ready Room” on CBS All Access.

Will CES be held in person in 2022?

That’s the current plan. CTA expects the show to return to its Vegas stomping grounds next year, as a hybrid physical-virtual event with online access to sessions and exhibitors.

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