Are Consumer Electronics Killing the Consumer Electronics Show?

You won’t find booths by Apple, Microsoft, Google or Amazon at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show. Nor will you see the CEOs at the largest U.S. cable operators, Comcast and Time Warner Cable, or media companies such as Disney and CBS. Nokia and Research In Motion have scaled back their presence as well.

Several stories have posited ideas about why the show doesn’t bring out the heavy hitters like it used to. But part of the reason is likely in the name of the show itself — consumer electronics.

The fact is, top executives at companies don’t need big shows anymore to come together and strike deals. They can use Skype and Facetime and Google video chat. In other words, some of the same technologies showcased at CES can be used to skip CES. Of course, they could also just hop on their private jets to meet in person. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer did make a surprise appearance yesterday during a presentation by Qualcomm to tout the new Windows tablets.

As demonstrated by companies such as Apple and Google, the digital world is as much about software as it is hardware. A vast convention floor may not be the ideal setting to showcase the latest apps and operating system upgrades.

The idea of a consumer electronics show today is also so broad. The lack of specificity adds to the confusion and may hurt the show’s focus. The future of TV, mobile, personal computers, smartwatches and the inevitable 2015 “Back to the Future”-style hovercrafts are all lumped together at CES. Smaller, more focused conferences at other times during the year tend to bring out the CEOs. Apple, which has long avoided CES, typically dominates the news when it holds its events.

CES continues to grow in size and number of participants but increasingly shifts toward small startups and middle management, as Bloomberg TV’s Jon Erlichman notes. The size of the show actually makes getting business done more difficult, especially for easily recognizable CEOs who border on celebrity status.

And thanks to the wonders of technology, many of the biggest names in tech may not come back.

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