The people who buy and sell television commercials are heading to Las Vegas. The Consumer Electronics Show, the massive exhibition of the latest in technology, has become a magnet for marketers looking to keep abreast of what consumers will be doing in the coming years. And if marketers are there, agency execs will be there too, followed closely by sales execs from the television networks, not to mention the digital execs looking to increase their rapidly growing share of ad dollars.
At a minimum, CES has become a place to see and be seen for anyone who wants to appear to be up on the latest trends, whether it’s streaming video, virtual reality or developments in ad tech.
Irwin Gotlieb, global chairman of media agency GroupM and a leading savant about the impact of technology on advertising, has been going to CES for years.
“It’s always been important for me to go because I need to figure out what GroupM needs to do today to prepare for two years and four years and six years from now,” Gotlieb says.
“I think it is useful for our clients to go there to understand what the developments are in technology and how those developments are going to impact marketing and the practice of media down the road,” Gotlieb adds.
Those clients also gather their organizations at CES, holding meetings that essentially kick off the year. “It takes everyone out of their holiday stupor and puts them into a most frenetic context,” he says.
For media companies that have embraced data-driven advertising products, CES is an opportunity to show advertisers what they are working on and what kind of results they’re getting.
“We’d been attending CES largely to understand what our marketing and client partners are doing,” says Michael Strober, executive VP of client strategy and ad innovation for Turner and co-head of Turner Ignite. “And then slowly as we started getting more involved with data and technology, we realized we had a play there to share some of our insights and learnings.”
Last year, Turner announced Ignite, its insights-driven content and data solutions unit, at CES.
“CES is where people go to envision where their business, and even their lives as consumers, will be in two to three years,” adds Dan Riess, executive VP of content partnerships and co-head of Turner Ignite. “It’s become a really great place to talk with our partners about where things are going. The Ignite group is really sort of in the center of that for Turner.”
Riess says that for TV people, CES is about more than the latest hardware. “It’s hard when your business is changing that fast for us to go to CES and just look at 4K TV,” he says. “You really want to get your handle on where’s my business going over the next two or three years. We’re there in that spirit to talk to clients about that.”
At the last CES, Turner staged a Sports Business Innovation Summit, which it plans to do again Jan 5. The event will include panels headlined by NBA commissioner Adam Silver and NCAA president Mark Emmert and a discussion of Turner’s eLeauge video game competition. The Turner event will feature a virtual auto race around the Vegas strip with fans participating and hoping to win a $1 million prize. Like last year, Turner’s award-winning Inside the NBA studio show—featuring Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Shaquille O’Neill—will originate from CES. Turner’s Sports Business Innovation Summit is sponsored by Ford and NextVR.
How did the marketers start coming to CES? Medialink founder and CEO Michael Kassan proudly takes credit.
For years, Kassan says, he would bring clients, agencies and emerging companies together at CES. “As more and more of our business in the marketing industry is going to be conducted with technology at the centerpiece, how would you not make CES as tent pole,” he asks.
The organizers of CES asked Medialink how it could attract more marketers to the conference. “The rest is history,” Kassan says.
“Originally, companies would send their tech people to CES. But now, chief information officers are making more marketing decisions and chief marketing officers are making more technology decisions,” he says. “Today if you look at the calendars of the senior executives of the media companies and at the marketing companies and at the emerging ad tech and marketing tech companies, CES is a must-do. Once you get the clients there, the agencies will be there, and then the sellers will be there.”
Kassan expects virtual reality and augmented reality to be big topics at CES 2017. “Everyone wants to see more and learn more about VR and AR,” he says.
Some people downplay CES, saying it’s become more about being seen and less about getting business done.
“We hear it every year. Oh gee, I could see all those people in New York. Or in Chicago. Or in L.A. But the truth is, you don’t [make those trips]. So this is a forcing function,” Kassan says of the show. And in that atmosphere, deals get done, he says.
That doesn’t mean everyone’s happy to go to CES right after New Year’s.
“People hate it because you’ve just come back from vacation. It’s the worst time to have a conference in the real world,” Kassan says. “[But] it’s kind of got the traction, and it really works.”