2009 CES Attendance Plummets 22 Percent: Was It By Design?

It's no surprise that the sour economy apparently has taken its toll on Las Vegas, but now it looks like the Consumer Electronics Show has crapped out too. Last week's tech gadget extravaganza in Sin City drew an estimated 110,000 attendees, down 22 percent from last year's audited total of 141,150, according to the Consumer Electronics Association, which puts on the annual event.

But a hundred grand, give or take a few thousand, may be the right number for this trade show. According to a CEA news release, organizers of the event may limit future attendance to 2009 levels. "Our board concluded that it is essential to have the right people attend CES. Board members reported getting more business done this year than at any prior show," said CEA president and CEO Gary Shapiro in the release. One step to limit CES attendance this year included a new $100 pre-registration fee implemented on November 1, the release states.

The lower body count won't come as a surprise to CES regulars, some of whom commented on the mellower, more pleasant experience, which included smaller crowds, and shorter cab and monorail lines. And despite the disappointing turnout, the show proved to be more exciting that this year's Macworld, others reported. CES brought the unveiling of cool new gear like the Palm Pre smart phone, Internet-connected HDTVs, and in-car satellite TV service. And Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer used the show to drum up interest in the new Windows 7 beta.

It's unclear whether CES organizers are simply trying to put a happy face on a disappointing turnout, or whether a smaller, more manageable show is really their ultimate goal. We may have to wait a year to find out.

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