CES attendance figures are grim at 110,000, down 22 percent

The International Consumer Electronics Show drew only 110,000 visitors — down 22 percent from last year — over its five-day run in Las Vegas, the lowest turnout in a long time.

The Consumer Electronics Association had predicted that 130,000 people would show for the event. On Tuesday night, CEA chief executive Gary Shapiro held out hope that there would be a strong showing based on high attendance at the opening party. Last year, the show drew 141,150 people. Audited 2009 numbers will be released in about 90 days.

But it was clear during the week that the extravaganza of years past is now more muted. It was easier to maneuver through the show floor during prime time hours, and the cab lines and monorail lines at the convention center were almost non-existent. For show goers, this meant that it was a far more pleasant experience than in the past, when the waits for transportation exceeded an hour.

All told, it still wasn’t a ghost town. Brian Lam, head of gadget site Gizmodo, told me Palm saved the day by supplying real news about the Palm Pre smartphone at the show. Otherwise, it might have been hard to find something to get really excited about.

Thursday and Friday were crowded days in particular. There were 300 new exhibitors among the 2,700, which was about the same as last year. They were spread across 1.7 million square feet of space in the cavernous Las Vegas Convention Center and Sands Expo. About 20,000 products were on display. The keynote speeches that I attended by Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer, Sony’s Howard Stringer and Intel’s Craig Barrett were pretty much filled to capacity at the Venetian Hotel. Even on Saturday, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin drew a crowd that filled a large room in the convention center.

The parties were not in short supply either. The Digital Experience event at the Mirage on Wednesday and Showstoppers on Thursday saw overflow crowds with plenty of catered food and open bars. I guess when there are freebies, it isn’t hard to get people to come during a tough economy.

Intel hosted the Counting Crows, while Advanced Micro Devices rented out the swanky Prive club (above) at the Planet Hollywood casino, where a model dressed as AMD’s Radeon graphics mascot character Ruby danced on stage in the VIP area. She was not that uncommon a sight in terms of CES marketing ploys, though much tamer than some of the fare at the Adult Entertainment Expo at the Sands Expo center (which I did not attend; however, it was very easy to guess which people cruising through the halls of the Venetian Hotel were likely there attending the AEE. They were the ones with scantily clad attire and abundant plastic surgery).

Porn probably has the same problems that the consumer electronics vendors have: commodity pricing, a huge amount of competition, and consumers with attention spans of gnats. But overall, I have to say that the technologies that I saw at CES this year were top notch. I’ll write more about the tech trends in a later post. But here’ s my picks for the top ten.