The Consumer Electronics Show cannot say it wasn’t warned.
A wave of companies, including semiconductor giant Intel, are scrapping plans to send their top executives to the annual CES trade show, held the first week of January in Las Vegas. Exclusive to industry professionals only, the annual gathering is normally a mecca where all corners of the global tech industry gather to network and cross-pollinate.
Yet a growing number of manufacturers planning to reveal their latest innovations are opting now for digital-only premieres carried live via webcast due to the risk the CES could become a super-spreader event for Omicron.
In an effort to stanch the hemorrhage of companies backing out, show organizer Consumer Technology Association took to LinkedIn to defend its decision to hold the CES for the first time in person since January 2020.
“Gathering in person helps us to build relationships, discover and learn new things and communicate better,“ CTA President Gary Shapiro wrote, arguing life must go on irrespective of the pandemic.
He pointed to the recent news that the highly contagious Omicron strain appears to be less severe than Delta, and argued the CES was a critical venue for smaller businesses looking to grow.
“While media has focused on a few dozen cancellations, CES has seen overall growth in exhibitor numbers in the past month. In fact, over 60 companies have signed on to exhibit since Friday,” posted Shapiro, who has said he expects half as many people as normal to walk through the convention center doors.
On Twitter, the CTA acknowledged the lower attendance, even spinning it as a positive by saying it would assist together with its health measures to contribute to a safer “socially distanced but worthwhile and productive” event.
Despite the assurance, a number of heavy-hitters have pulled out of the CES, or have dramatically scaled back their presence in the desert city to avoid taking any unnecessary risks. Here are the big names:
The e-commerce giant is a no show. This week, it said it would no longer maintain an on-site presence, citing the health and safety of its employees as its top priority.
The search engine and cloud computing firm will eschew a physical presence in Las Vegas. Instead, it announced in somewhat oblique terms, it plans to work with the CTA and its partners “to identify and support virtual opportunities” given the health risks, a spokesperson told tech site CNET on Thursday.
Facebook parent Meta wants to revolutionize the metaverse, a virtual environment for people to meet socially with the help of products like its Oculus Quest VR headset. Now it has the chance: it won’t be attending the CES either.
The U.S. chipmaker and its self-driving unit Mobileye said its plans to move to a digital-first live experience, with minimal on-site staff after consulting with health officials.
The largest 5G network provider in the country won’t be attending either, but said it would honor its agreement to sponsor the CES.
The rival carrier chose to follow T-Mobile only a day later, dropping its plans to attend the show in person as well.
The messaging platform popular with Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk also reportedly won’t be attending (although you wouldn’t know it from its own Twitter feed!)
ByteDance’s viral social media app that really sparked the trend for user-generated content will also bow out, according to multiple media reports.
The Chinese manufacturer of ThinkPad line of laptops said it would suspend all on-site activity in Las Vegas.
General Motors CEO Mary Barra bailed on plans to head to Las Vegas, where she was scheduled to present the new, all-electric Chevrolet Silverado, a pickup truck set to compete with the Rivian R1T, Ford F-150 Lightning and Tesla Cybertruck.
Alphabet’s self-driving car subsidiary Waymo will not be sending anyone, citing the quickly rising infection rates. It still hopes to participate virtualy, in part because its female co-CEO, Tekedra Mawakana, plans to speak on equality.
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