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T-Mobile limits presence at CES but the show goes on

CES

US operator T-Mobile says the vast majority of its team will no longer be attending CES, while Amazon, Meta, Twitter and Pintrest have reportedly pulled out entirely.

T-Mobile announced yesterday it would  be ‘significantly limiting’ who it sends to CES in Las Vegas, and crucially that CEO Mike Sievert will no longer be offering a keynote in-person or virtually.

“After careful consideration and discussion, T-Mobile has made the difficult decision to significantly limit our in-person participation at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show,” it said in statement.

“While we are confident that CES organizers are taking exhaustive measures to protect in-person attendees and we had many preventative practices in place as well, we are prioritizing the safety of our team and other attendees with this decision. T-Mobile will continue to serve as a CES sponsor and title sponsor of the DRL Championship Race but the vast majority of our team will not be traveling to Las Vegas.”

It did offer a glimmer of hope for the future, adding: “T-Mobile’s entire team looks forward to an in-person CES 2023, which we hope includes an on-stage keynote in front of a live audience.”

CES is the mothership of tech shows and will take place in Las Vegas from January 5-8th 2022. Its keynotes are the bellwether of the technology industry, and companies travel from around the globe to network, make deals, and show off new products or services.

It’s also been widely reported today that many of the internet giants such as Amazon, Meta, Twitter, and Pintrest will no longer be attending.

Amazon told Bloomberg in a statement that it has pulled out “due to the quickly shifting situation and uncertainty around the Omicron variant.” There are more corporate statements doing the rounds from the other firms, but they are all along the same lines.

The optics of such recognisable brands pulling out of the show are not good of course, and that’s the angle much of the reporting has taken. But the business plans of internet platforms like Twitter and Pintrest are hardly reliant on unveiling some new product at CES, or any other trade show, so perhaps the pressure to play it cautious wasn’t countered by a vital need to be there in person.

The meat and drink of CES is always the hardware vendors – whether it’s multi-industry giants like Sony and Samsung unveiling the latest evolutions in consumer electronics, Intel and Nvidia explaining the bleeding edge tech that will start trickling down to use cases, smart car innovations, or just fringe gadgetry.

Samsung for its part seems to have confirmed it will be at the show in person today:

“With CES 2022 just two short weeks away, and as I embark on a new role here at Samsung, I am greatly honoured to be hosting our pre-show keynote, held under the theme ‘Together for Tomorrow,” it said in post. “I hope you will join me on January 4th at 6:30PM PST for Samsung’s CES 2022 keynote in Las Vegas.”

Nvidia is delivering its keynote virtually  – but to be fair it seems to have planned to do so for sometime.

Meanwhile the CTA, organiser of CES, seems intent it can plough on safely: “At this point, we’re very much focused on having this show and doing it safely and putting the right protocols in place to ensure that people feel comfortable with it,” Jean Foster, senior vice president of marketing and communications at the CTA told Ad Week. “We’ve been working with our board, with different health advisory groups; we talked to exhibitors, and we’ve asked them what works.”

Nevada state happened to put out a release yesterday explaining who needs to wear a mask and where. It actually announced that some areas have been downgraded in terms of severity of cases, meaning mask usage needs to be less ubiquitous. However the vastly populated indoor setting of CES will mean masks on will probably be the default for visitors.

As with all things covid and especially Omicron, the situation can turn on dime. But for now, barring some unforeseen wave of cancellations by the key firms, it looks like CES is marching ahead, mask on, ready to do business.

While it’s in the interest of anyone in the tech or tech-adjacent industries for CES and other tentpole shows like MWC to succeed, the fact we are still facing essentially the same questions as we were this time last year is the worrying thing for in-person events going forwards.

Last year CES was virtual and everyone seemed to understand why – but it felt like that was going to be the last time we’d have to make the call. The silver bullet of the vaccines was around the corner, and it felt like that would broadly be the end of lockdowns and forced-virtual events.

In the UK we now find ourselves in a position where the vast majority are vaxed and even boostered up, but still we may be facing restrictions that disrupt a visit to the pub let alone a trip to Vegas. It’s futile to predict where we will be next with the pandemic, but if restrictions become a seasonal thing – trouble in the winter, do what you want in the summer – perhaps large-scale international events like CES and MWC could do worse than to move away from January and February timings and instead aim for the warmer months of summer. Perhaps avoiding winter, and all the difficult covid balancing it brings, is the future for live events in general.

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