CES was largely irrelevant this year

Forced online by the pandemic and overshadowed by the attack on the Capitol, the 2021 edition of CES was mostly an afterthought as media's attention focused elsewhere.

Why it matters: The consumer electronics trade show is the cornerstone event for the Consumer Technology Association and Las Vegas has been the traditional early-January gathering place for the tech industry.

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Details: Plenty of tech companies announced their latest wares last week, including new TVs, laptops and appliances from Samsung, LG, Lenovo, Acer and others. (You can see our wrap-up of highlights here.)

  • There were just a lot fewer people paying attention, especially among the non-tech press, whose focus was decidedly elsewhere.

Between the lines: While keynotes were broadcast online and organizers of both the main show and side events did their best to replicate things virtually, much of the show's draw is in getting to meet people face to face and touch and use the latest products.

  • There were already concerns the show had grown too large. While this can be a sign of success, it's also the case that conventions can grow too unwieldy and eventually fade from prominence. Just ask the organizers of CeBit and Comdex.

Our thought bubble: By going virtual, CES was able to potentially market itself to a bigger audience. But holding attention is tougher for virtual events, especially those that stretch over days.

  • When people force themselves on to a packed airplane and overpay for a couple nights at the Wynn, they are likely to be in full CES mode from morning to night.

  • At home, it's easier to move on to other things, especially given all that is going on right now.

Yes, but: There may be a bump in demand once travel is safe, which will be an important opportunity for CES to reassert itself.

  • Show organizers also deserve credit for increasing the diversity of their keynote lineup, with three female CEOs speaking on Tuesday alone. It was just a couple years ago that organizers scheduled an event where all the corporate keynotes were from men.

What they're saying: CTA said more than 2,000 companies debuted products during last week's digital event, but acknowledged that it isn't a substitute for the in-person gathering and it looks forward to a hybrid digital/in-person event anchored in Las Vegas next year.

  • "The digital CES 2021 was not meant to replace or recreate an in-person tradeshow. In-person events will remain key to furthering business and economic growth around the world," a CTA representative said in a statement to Axios.

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