CES: The Economy Strikes Again?

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By Ben Grossman

Midway through the first day proper of CES (there were press events Wednesday), one thing has stood out so far: there are a lot less people here than I expected.  Not just people in the TV business, I mean people in general.

You realized it as soon as you got to Vegas, starting with the lack of winding cab lines at the airport typical of your CES arrival. 

When I checked into my hotel and told the staffer I had good news — I would be leaving a night early and they could have my room — she just laughed and said rooms weren’t an issue like last year.  Someone else told me they got their hotel room for half the price of what they had originally booked it for. 

And then when the main halls opened at 10 a.m. Thursday and morning turned to afternoon, it was immediately evident how relatively easy it was just to get around, as opposed to the crushing crowds of last year.  Either this is a fashionably-late arriving crowd, or there are really fewer people here.

Pre-show numbers I believe talked of a drop in attendance of upper single digits percentage-wise, but I’ll be surprised if that number holds up.

And the same goes for TV execs.  Last year I remember constantly bumping into people I know from the industry from network to studio people, many at a high level.  NBC even had executive meetings here.

This year, not so far.  Many execs I knew of who were planning on coming ended up staying home.  One of the few major media company chiefs in town said they were one of two people from their entire company here, and they were only in for a day trip.

Last year there was this sense of momentum that more and more programmers were going to be coming to CES from now on. 

Whether it is that coming to look at a bunch of fancy TVs isn’t worth the trip after all or it’s just the economy, stupid, clearly that momentum is on hold.

There are plenty of industry-related happenings here from keynotes to booths hosted by NBCU and Sony Pictures Television (including tapings of Jeopardy), but it is much quieter on that front than expected.

In fact, it is just much quieter, period.