The year’s biggest technology show will go on… virtually. The Consumer Technology Association has announced that CES 2021 will be an “all-digital experience.”

A few months ago the group had still been planning to hold an in-person event in January 2021, but as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread, the organization concedes that “it is not possible to safely convene tens of thousands of people in Las Vegas in early January 2021 to meet and do business in person.”

Instead, CES 2021 will offer virtual keynotes, product showcases, and networking opportunities.

CES is just the latest major event to announce a move to all-digital.

Computex was a scaled back, digital-only event this year. And Apple’s annual Worldwide Developer Conference was an online-only affair this year. While that meant there were no face-to-face meetings or hands-on with new hardware like the company’s Mac developer kit with an ARM-based processor, Apple took advantage of the virtual event to make WWDC 2020 the most widely “attended” ever by making sessions free for all developers around the world.

It’s unclear at this point what a virtual CES will look like. The annual event typically a place for tech companies to come together for conference events including panels, keynotes, and closed door meetings.

With thousands of journalists from around the globe all in one place, it’s also long been a place for tech companies large and small to announce new products. But it’s unclear if that strategy makes as much sense for a virtual event.

One of the down sides of announcing a new product at CES is that it will have to compete with thousands of other products for attention. So if you don’t get the benefit of showing it off your new stuff to visiting journalists in person, why not just announce things on your own schedule?

Going virtual-only may have helped Apple in some ways. And it may help many of the companies that normally attend CES. But I’m not sure it will help the CTA very much… so I’m not surprised the organization was reluctant to cancel next year’s show.

It’ll be interesting to see what this move means going forward. Even if COVID-19 is under control in a year or two, will people want to gather with tens of thousands of people in Las Vegas for CES 2022 or CES 2023?

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5 replies on “CES 2021 will be a digital-only event”

  1. “Why not just announce things on your own schedule?”
    Because then it won’t appear anywhere on CES’s “Big List Of New Things” and some people who only really pay attention to CES won’t see that it’s there. How big of a deal that is and will be for someone with a product varies depending on a bunch of stuff I wouldn’t know, of course.

  2. I’m going to miss all the hands on coverage by “everyman(person?)” journalists like you that help to temper expectations and tamp down hype. Without that, it’s likely going to turn into a QVC of Kickstarter style pitches making it really hard to substantiate real things for all the vaporware in the cloud.

    1. Yeah, it can be tough to walk the line between regurgitating press releases and actually providing info that you wouldn’t get just by looking at the official product page. A chance to go hands-on definitely helps, but it’s always tough to judge claims about things like battery life and performance when you only get to spend a few minutes with a device.

      1. Yeah, one of the cool things about CES was actually get hands on review time with relatively unknown brands who could turn into something big down the road. Press releases are fine, but often don’t have many pictures or videos.

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