Could CES learn from IFA’s new smaller, more intimate consumer show?

Last week I wrote a piece for Forbes that questions whether CES could move forward with a normal CES in the age of Covid-19.

CES is a show where social distancing is not possible. Over 180.000 people attended CES, and even with 2.1 million square feet of exhibit space, the aisles are crammed everywhere with people shoulder to shoulder, trying to see what was new and exciting.

My perspective is that given the social distancing requirements that I believe will be in place well into 2021, the possibility of holding a normal CES in January 2021 is highly questionable at this time. That could change if we get some medical miracles in the form of a vaccine or a successful treatment if one gets Covid-19. But most reports suggest we would have a vaccine available for everyone until mid to late 2021.

CTA, the trade organization behind CES, sent me the following note, saying they are moving ahead with CES plans but admit there will be challenges. Here is their official statement they sent me.

CTA’s official position on CES 2021 is as follows:

“Planning for CES 2021 is well underway. We are focused on bringing you the most influential tech event in the world. Major brands are committed for the show, and we look forward to announcing another slate of top-tier speakers for CES 2021. While we plan for our event in Las Vegas, there are new considerations around attending conferences and tradeshows. We are adapting to the evolving situation and want to ensure that CES continues to help make the connections businesses need to grow while keeping the safety, security, and health of all our attendees as a priority. Please check for an updated list of changes.”

Since I wrote that article on CES for Forbes, IFA, the largest consumer electronics show in the world that takes place in Berlin in early September, has shared how they will proceed with their show this fall.

I spoke this week with Jens Heithecker, the Executive Director of IFA Berlin, and he told me how this new event would work:

“After all the event cancellations during the past months, our industry urgently needs a platform where it can showcase its innovation so that it can recover and rebound. The recovery of our industry starts here at IFA Berlin.” While virtual events were useful, they were “missing the immediacy, hands-on experience and human connections that make events like IFA Berlin so incredibly useful”

He acknowledged that holding IFA in its past format, where close to 400,000 people attend the show in Berlin, would not be possible this year. Instead, they have created an event that is much smaller and more targeted over three days from Sept 3-5, 2020.

Given the fact that they cannot have large crowds this year, they have developed an innovative format to meet industry needs, which includes as many as 1,000 invited guests for each day at specifically focused events.

That means that at any given time, there will only be 4,000 invited guests at the Berlin Conference grounds. (Interestingly, the Berlin government-approved crowds up to 5,000. However, IFA officials wanted a smaller number they believed could be managed better given the social distancing issues they have to deploy with all attendees.)

The IFA event will have four different exhibits or programs. You can read the details of these events here.

One important thing about how this year’s show will be managed by IFA officials is that they will not require any vendors to put up booths of their own. Many won’t even commit to coming to the show until later this summer as they wait to see how things go in terms of being able to travel from the US to Europe or from other countries where travel restrictions are still in place at the moment.

To accommodate these folks, IFA will build booths in these halls that can be set up in advance and are all about the same dimensions. All companies need to be at the show is their signage and products to show to the media, customers, and dealers. This is an interesting move by IFA and one that should serve them well with vendors and make it possible for vendors to commit even weeks before the event starts.

It is tough for me to see a normal CES taking place in January 2021 without some significant lifting of restrictions and medical miracles. I suspect CTA management will be watching IFA’s temporary format for their Sept Show in Berlin and would not be surprised if CES does something similar if needed to keep CES 2021 from being canceled next year.

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Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

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