Has CES Outlived its Usefulness?

As we are ready to close the book on yet another CES, and its exhibitors and attendees pack their bags to make the trip home, it begs the question: Is CES even useful anymore? Is it a product of a bygone era in tech, now rendered nearly useless in this age of the 24-hour news cycle?

It's a good question, and one that definitely is worthy of debate among the tech community at large.

In the interest of full disclosure, my first (and last) CES was in 2005, as part of the Betanews staff. I have to admit as a tech geek I was certainly excited. But upon getting there, I found myself more disappointed than anything: Looking for good stuff there seemed like something akin to searching for a needle in a haystack.

CES's size was more than overwhelming. While the event is apparently somehow organized-it seemed to me as if money talks and those who could afford what must obviously be the steep booth rates got the best locations, and were the easiest to find.

The real turnoff to me was the chaotic nature. A sea of what is basically junk covered up the good stuff. This led to frustration, as I felt like I was spending an entire day sifting out the dirt to find what little gold I could.

Another thing -- which Farhad Manjoo at Slate wrote at length about -- was how little was actually new. See, PR companies have a knack at wrapping up something that is old news and attempt to make it seem new. This makes the journalist's job at shows like this event more difficult: you end up wasting your time on things when you could have been scouring the floor for the next big thing.

The nature of this show also means that smaller companies have a harder time breaking through the noise -- they're fighting the flashy booths of their big time competitors for your attention. We're all human, and like flies to a bug zapper we're attracted to bright pretty lights.

In the end, it becomes a question of whether CES is even useful anymore, and I'd argue in its current form it is not. The expense of covering these shows often exceed any revenues you'd get as a result of it, and often there's very little that is worth the reader's time.

Personally I prefer the smaller shows. Heck, CEA -- the organization that runs CES itself -- throws one. These shows are much smaller and in my experience, produce a heck of a lot more news. Smaller companies are on a more even keel with their larger competitors, and it becomes a matter of quality of your wares rather than your standing in the industry or how appealing your booth is.

I know of at least one major tech company (who will remain nameless) whose PR director I've talked to that says it has all but pulled out of CES for exactly that reason. She said the response -- and coverage -- her company gets out of these smaller shows is much more beneficial than anything that has come out of CES or similar large-scale events.

Will other companies ever see this too? Probably not. But sooner or later the current format is going to collapse on itself. Companies can do what they do at CES on a smaller scale, and on their own time.

I'm interested to hear what others think. Am I alone? I'm going to guess that I'm not.

Check out our complete coverage of CES 2011.

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