CES 2012 will be Microsoft’s last year at trade show

December 27, 2011

The 2012 Consumer Electronics Show, which begins on January 9th, will be one of the largest trade shows ever, as start-ups and industry giants alike unveil their latest products in Las Vegas. As Venturebeat reported:

Putting recession fears behind it, the Consumer Electronics Show coming in January looks like it’s going to be one of the biggest in history.

The biggest U.S. tech trade show (officially called the 2012 International CES) will draw an estimated 149,000 attendees to Las Vegas this year, about the same number as attended in January 2011 and not far from the record of 152,000 set in 2006. The big deal will be the Ultrabook, a full-fledged thin computer that turns on instantly.

If 2011 was the year of the tablet, 2012 will be the year of the Ultrabook,” said Jason Oxman, senior vice president at the Consumer Electronics Association, which stages the show. Computer makers will introduce dozens of models of Ultrabooks, which are slim but fully capable computers akin to Apple’s MacBook Air.

The show will likely have more than 2,700 exhibitors occupying more than 1.8 million square feet of exhibit space, Oxman said. That suggests that the high-tech economy is doing better than it was a year ago and it is more confident about its ability to sell the gadgets and services that will be on display at the show. CES is a barometer of the tech ecosystem, from start-ups to big retailers.

“It’s looking very very good,” Oxman said in an interview. “We are just thrilled at the level of excitement and engagement of exhibitors. They are felling good about economic recovery and the interest among consumers in buying consumer electronics. It’s our second-biggest show in history and we are still selling space.”

This year’s show takes place at the Las Vegas Convention Center and other venues from Jan 9 to 13, with a press day starting Jan. 8. Oxman said that this year’s show is just shy of the record 1.85 million square feet booked in 2008, but he said the show continues to book new exhibitors.

Microsoft, one of the largest companies which attends CES every year announced that 2012 will be its last year at the event. As Cecilia Kang explained :

The technology industry’s biggest show-and-tell event — the Consumer Electronics Show — is losing its anchor company, Microsoft.

Microsoft said it decided to pull out of CES after the January 2012 show because it no longer fits its needs and its timing does not always mesh with its product announcements.

“We asked, ‘Are we doing something because it’s the right thing to do, or because it’s the way we’ve always done it?’ ” Frank Shaw, Microsoft’s vice president of communications, said in a blog post.

With the decision, Microsoft follows Apple and other Silicon Valley giants that have preferred more exclusive product launches over the expensive, days-long Las Vegas blitz in which thousands of companies compete for the spotlight. And it shows that events such as CES, run by the Arlington-based Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), is no longer the only way to meet partners and show off new gadgets.

Instead, companies such as Microsoft, Apple, Facebook and Amazon.com are hosting their own high-profile events for the launch of new products, and they are using social media services such as Facebook and Twitter to get the word to users.

“These companies don’t want to be run by the show, and the show’s schedule, when they know they can run their own shows,” said Rob Enderle, an independent high-tech analyst based in San Jose.

While Microsoft’s official line is that the event does not line up with product schedules for the company, other reports indicated that their relationship with CEA, which runs the event, deteriorated and led to the announcement by Microsoft. As Joshua Topolsky reported:

There's been a bit of back and forth today over Microsoft's announcement that it would be ending its long-standing CES keynote role, and will no longer have a booth at the show as it's done for many years. Head of Microsoft's corporate communications, Frank X. Shaw, posted a rather direct note about it on the company's blog, and the CEA confirmed the move on its blog.

Shortly thereafter, GigaOM posted a report that it wasn't Microsoft who initiated the end of the relationship, but the CEA itself. According to the article (via a source) "Microsoft didn't pull out of the keynote — they were kicked out."

Exciting stuff, one would think. However, we've spoken with sources of our own close to the matter, and it seems that the less exciting story is actually the most accurate one. Apparently last year the CEA requested that Microsoft sign on for another three-year deal for keynoting and presenting at CES. We're told that Microsoft declined that offer and accepted only a single year deal (covering 2012) — which would indicate a lead-up to the more comprehensive move the company announced today.

Our source did indicate that the CEA was interested in playing the field for the lead keynote address, and that Microsoft would ultimately have had to pony up more cash for the privilege of holding onto its spot (everybody at the show, even Microsoft, pays to exhibit and participate). As we were made to understand it, Microsoft simply didn't feel it was getting a reasonable return on its investment with CES, and the reality is that the show hadn't aligned with its launches for a few years.

The decision apparently was made in a truly amicable fashion, with neither side seemingly getting what it needed out of the relationship... which doesn't make for a very entertaining story.

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