Monday, January 5, 2009

CES 2009: Focus on the Affordable

This year's CES, which takes place from January 8-11 in its usual spot, Las Vegas, NV, will undoubtedly serve as host to fewer visitors, and carry a much more restrained focus, so to speak, than in previous years. The reason is obvious: the state of the economy. But this isn't to say that there won't be plenty to see. On the contrary, we'll just see the focus shift to products, technologies, and features that might not have played such an important role before.

For one, this year's event will probably see more emphasis placed on affordable gadgets, like portable navigation and media players, over big-ticket items. If a company is promoting a big ticket flat panel TV, speaker system, or what not, bet your bottom dollar that his pitch will focus on an aspect of the product that will help to save energy and consequently, money.

But energy savings isn't the only place that manufacturers can hang their affordable hats: things like Internet TVs could negate the need to buy a separate, large display monitor for your computer; while the new slew of Internet radios might encourage people to spend less on digital music and CDs. Then of course there's the age old argument that, when you have a fantastic home theatre system at home, why would you need to head out to the movies (or elsewhere) on a Friday night? Taking that into consideration as well, I wouldn't be surprised to see things like high-tech board games and other home entertainment gadgetry being pitched to passers-by.

More affordable gadgets as a whole will see greater presence at this year's event: everything from rechargeable batteries that help save the environment and dollars to video games and systems; one area that is still doing well despite the economic situation. Other small-ticket items like portable navigation devices, MP3 players, and iPod-related fare will be hot with retailers looking to offer consumers a greater selection of items that won't hurt their pocket books.

Don't take this to mean, however, that makers of the more expensive and sophisticated technology will be twiddling their thumbs on the show floor because retailers think consumers won't be investing for the first part of this year. CES will still serve as a time to learn about the new technologies, find out what's what, and make at least preliminary, if not final, decisions on what to bring in store.

As some other reports have pointed out, CES could also serve the dual purpose of helping business partners avoid additional travel. Many dealers meet with vendors after CES, often times traveling to their offices (or vice versa) to make plans for the year. CES could, in many ways, take the place of this extra travel costs: let's find out everything we need to know at the show now, then make final decisions by phone, e-mail, or video conference later.

Anecdotally, after asking around, I've heard speculation that attendance to this year's CES will be down anywhere from 15 to 40%. When we're looking at Canada specifically, this will be hard to tell. It's safe to assume that most custom A/V dealers won't be attending the show since CEDIA is really their "beat". Major manufacturers and retailers will likely be sending a smaller complement of staff down. But smaller companies may see this as an advantage, sending their usual roster of staff, both on the dealer and and manufacturer/distributor side, in order to ensure that they don't miss a beat.

At this point in the game, all we can do is wait and see. We'll keep you updated through reports straight from the show floor. Stay tuned!

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