What CES means for brands, live events like SXSW in 2022

A rocky CES has become a warning sign for the live events circuit, indicating that not everyone is ready for a return to in-person conferences. Still, that doesn’t mean brands should abandon appearances in 2022; they just need to plan better.

Austin-based SXSW, which is a tentpole festival for the media and tech industries, issued a notice that it would proceed with an in-person show and a virtual component in March. Meanwhile, brands that had pulled out of attending CES in Las Vegas, like LG Electronics, still have plans to send people to the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show in Orlando in February.

Events and marketing leaders are also looking forward to Cannes in June. And there are upstart events building buzz, like NFT.NYC, which was a hit among cooped up crypto-entrepreneurs in 2021. The schedule still looks full for now, even if other events are in doubt, with the Grammy Awards postponed indefinitely, and E3 and the Sundance Film Festival moving online. 

The omicron wave of COVID-19 forced many companies to pull staff from attending CES. Major electronics companies, including LG, Lenovo, Panasonic, Google and Microsoft, withdrew at the last minute, leaving open spaces in typically packed convention center halls. Usually about 170,000 people show up to CES, which last year had to host an online-only show because of the pandemic. Consumer Technology Association organizers anticipated a far smaller headcount this year. Official numbers will be released after the show, but by all accounts lines in Las Vegas were shorter, hotel lobbies less packed, and shuttles easier to board.

See the latest news from CES here.

Despite the troubles, CES was also a harbinger of how events could carry on, with attendees walking around fully masked and vaccinated, and organizers handing out personal COVID-19 testing kits. Even if only tens of thousands, and not hundreds, made it to Las Vegas, that would still make CES one of the larger in-person trade shows since the start of the pandemic.

“These events can happen in a responsible way, and CES was the same,” said Roxy Fata, chief operating officer of Infinite Objects, an NFT electronics display maker. “People were masked. They were very diligent with protocols. It was very organized.”

Fata was the only member of Infinite Objects to make it to CES, after the company pulled out like so many others. Fata went to speak on one panel at “C Space,” a mini-tech symposium within CES, and she stayed for less than 23 hours. Fata said her stay at Aria hotel cost half the usual rates. “It was worth it to go for sure,” Fata said.

Fata and Infinite Objects have been represented at other live events in the past year, too, including NFT.NYC and Art Basel in Miami in December. The company designs screens that display non-fungible token artwork, and it works with brands in this fast-evolving space, which was also one of the breakout technologies at CES.