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CES 2023 will have about 100,000 attendees, or more than double the number last year during the Omicron wave, according to the Consumer Technology Association.

Last year, tech’s biggest trade show was a disaster thanks to the Omicron wave. Only about 45,000 attendees showed up at CES 2022, far below the 171,268 that showed up at the previous physical event in early 2020. But for its next installment, the show could more than double 2022’s attendance, said Gary Shapiro, CEO of the CTA, which is hosting CES 2023 in Las Vegas in early January.

In an exclusive interview with VentureBeat, Shapiro said the show already has 2,100 exhibitors and more are signing up every day with just four weeks to go before the event.

Last year, the Omicron variant of COVID-19 wrecked a lot of plans. I had planned to go, but I canceled a week before the show as all of my appointments disappeared. I had to cover the show from afar.

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But this year, I am expecting to make it to Las Vegas again and moderate, of all things, a panel on the metaverse (at 3 pm on Friday January 6 at LVCC North / N262) at a sprawling physical event. It’s kind of a predecessor to our own GamesBeat Summit: Into the Metaverse 3 online event coming on February 1-2.

Shapiro is optimistic that people want to return to physical events and get the face-to-face contact with their industry peers so they can do deals to keep the tech economy humming. The show has 2,100 exhibitors already, including a thousand new ones, he said. The show should have at least 2.1 million square feet of space, or 50% above the 1.4 million square feet last year.

“CES 2023 is going to rock. Extremely strong, a lot of passionate interest. Most major companies are in CES. Great pre-registration,” Shapiro said.

Luci Immers is a VR headset that taps the processing power of your smartphone, tablet, or laptop.
Luci Immers is a VR headset that taps the processing power of your smartphone, tablet, or laptop. From CES 2019.

This year will feature new themes such as mobile tech focused on marine environments as well as a live demo session with the International Space Station.

The show will have a whole focus on the metaverse and internet 3.0, Shapiro said, and a lot of healthcare technologies on display.

As far as issues go, CES is teamed with the United Nations and its focus on fundamental human rights, like the right to clean air and water, the right to healthcare, security and mobility.

“These are fundamental human rights that technology is enabling,” Shapiro said.

Companies like John Deere will show that technology is seeping into everything, even companies that aren’t considered tech firms.

And while that’s enough to make you optimistic, the specter of tech layoffs is hanging over the show. Shapiro hasn’t seen a fall off in registration, but he acknowledges a “rebalancing in the tech community.”

You can expect a lot of people to talk about metaverse and blockchain, he said. While the Chips and Science Act in the U.S. should help create tech jobs, Shapiro noted his group didn’t support it out of concern for the deficit it would widen.

He acknowledged the growing tension with China over the use of tech and the ban on certain computing resources. But he noted the West has its diversity, creativity and innovations that help it stay competitive in the face of China’s manufacturing might.

Some of the top speakers include John Deere’s CEO, AMD CEO Lisa Su, Stellantis CEO, NASDAQ CEO Adena Friedman and Delta Airlines CEO Ed Bastian. We closed our interview with a question about the hybrid nature of events in the age of the metaverse.

Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.

Gary Shapiro wore his mask at CES 2022 during the Omicron wave.

Gary Shapiro: CES 2023 is going to rock. Extremely strong, a lot of passionate interest. Most major companies are in CES. Great pre-registration. And it’s interesting that we have a theme now.

VentureBeat: How do you compare it to a year ago, the situation there? There’s one obvious difference with COVID.

Shapiro: We’re way ahead of where we were this time last year, even before all the omicron stuff. At this point, if the show were held today, we’d be 50 percent larger in the physical space than last year. We’re targeting 100,000 people to come. That’s our goal. We have internal goals, but we decided to make it explicit this time. That’s where we appear to be headed. But the truth is, about our show and every show, you never really know until the show is over, how many people you have coming.

VentureBeat: Are you happy with that number? It’s still lower than the pre-COVID numbers, but it’s also far above last year.

Shapiro: It’s a good number in terms of — it’s a different world than it was, for one thing. We’ve widened the aisles. We’ve taken a bunch of measures that we announced for the last CES event in 2022. We’re even going a step further in a sense, in that we’re moving toward more of a touchless environment. For the main convention centers, you shouldn’t have to open doors with your hands. We’ll have them open or have people helping open them.

CES 2022 show floor
CES 2022 show floor was quite forgettable.

I’m excited because the industry is excited. We’ve seen more innovations entries than we ever have. We’ve set records. We see more excitement. The passion and buzz about the show that we’re getting from both exhibitors and attendees is super large. We have a strong global focus and international attendance. We learned from CES 2022 that the passion among the international people is so high that they would even come in the middle of omicron. One-third of our attendees then, and even previously, were international. But it takes more for someone from outside the U.S. to come, especially with quarantines and things like that.

This show, we’re really excited, because we have a lot of new companies, a lot of new themes. We have 1,000 new exhibitors. We have all the major companies that were in CES 2022, or had signed up for CES 2022 before they left. We have some new things we’re doing. We have a new category in the mobility area focused on marine, where we have some really cool companies showing new energy-efficient ways of transporting on water. From the space side we have a live session with the International Space Station. I was just talking to the head of NASA about it. We’re going to all sorts of different environments.

We also have a focus on food technology, which is pretty exciting, as well as a whole focus and area around the metaverse and internet 3.0. In the health tech category we’re seeing incredibly strong participation from all parts of the health care world, whether it’s medical associations or doctors or groups like the American Heart Association and AARP. They’re focused on health care technology solutions.

Last year, outdoor demos ruled at CES.

One of the most exciting things we’ll be highlighting is that we’ve officially teamed up with the United Nations and their human securities, what they’ve done with the World Academy of Arts and Sciences around basic, fundamental human rights. The right to clean air and water, the right to food, the right to health care, the right to security and mobility. Personal security, political security. These are fundamental human rights that technology is enabling. At CES you’ll see the UN logo throughout the show, because these are things that technology — the technology represented at CES can enable these rights for everyone in the world going forward. It’s exciting. It’s a great thing we’re doing. It’s great what companies are doing.

You see that in so many different exhibits. Just walking around even CES 2022, things like people showing how to grow locally. John Deere is our opening keynote speaker, talking about ways of getting more food out to more people using their internet-enabled tractors, which can run 24 hours a day. Different things that keep water and air clean. We have all sorts of technologies and solutions focused on that. The health care world, obviously, has seen a huge expansion and focus because of the pandemic that we’ve all endured. We have other innovators showing and creating major things on the world stage, which is really exciting.

VentureBeat: Do you have some of those more specific numbers on things like square footage expectation and the number of exhibitors expected?

Shapiro: I can’t give the number of exhibitors off the top of my head. It changes every day, and it has since Friday. As of today we’re at 2.1 million square feet. We ended up with about 1.4 million at CES 2022, so we’re 50 percent bigger in terms of footprint. In terms of the number of exhibitors I think we’re tracking really strong. We’re almost certainly over 2,100, but again, the best number is the final number at the show. That’s what we really are. It’s like polls before election day. That’s just as of today.

Playing an arcade game CES 2022.

VentureBeat: As far as the different themes, like the food technology one, I do recall that Impossible Foods had a good presence in the last few years. Is that still one of the companies pointing the way for how technology and food can mix? Or do you have other things that are also cooking on that front?

Shapiro: There’s Suvie, which is a really cool company. That allows you to basically leave your home, leave something in this refrigerator/oven that clicks off when you want and goes from a refrigerator to — I think it’s a microwave. The food is waiting at the time you want when you get home, fully cooked. That’s really interesting, with a great human story behind it. It’s a woman-founded company. This is a woman who sold her first company, a consumer technology ratings company, to USA Today, I think before she was 20. Robin Liss. There’s a couple of Korean companies doing some interesting things in food technology and service, in robotics and things like that. [Impossible Foods is not going to be there this year].

Tech industry layoffs

VentureBeat: How do you feel like the tech industry is coping with all of the layoffs they’ve had amid an economic downturn? Is there anything visible that you see for 2023? What sort of course are we going to be following throughout the year based on what you think about and what you see at CES?

Shapiro: What’s really interesting — CES 2020 was the last pre-COVID CES. It’s fair to say that almost every company has changed dramatically since then. The tech industry certainly benefited by providing solutions during COVID, and also benefited from the fact that the government threw a huge amount of money around to consumers. Consumers didn’t have many places to spend it. They couldn’t travel. They couldn’t go to events. Restaurants were limited at the time. Clothing for business, things like that weren’t so necessary. The tech industry did really well from that, the consumer tech side.

Although it seems like we’re not doing great if you look at layoffs, comparing the numbers of industry sales in 2020 versus, say, 2019, pre-COVID, we’re still ahead. Part of that is inflationary. My entire career, which spans a few decades, I’ve never had to talk about the fact that some of our products have gone up in price. At the Association we don’t have a lot of pricing discussions at all for anti-trust reasons. That’s out of my comfort zone. Companies set their own prices according to what they think is fair. But some of our sales growth has come from inflationary pressure. Still, consumer technology is a bargain, a high value compared to just about anything else produced in society. The effort is always to make it better in quality, do more, and price comes down with quantity and competition.

Building CES.

The industry itself, I have not seen a fall-off in registration or excitement or passion. But what I think the interest is really focused on is positioning and showing their companies in the full sense of what they’re doing, and showing them visibly. Microsoft will have a big floor presence showing in two areas, the gaming area of the show and the auto area in the new west hall. A lot of companies are putting their best foot forward and showing things people may not expect them to do. A lot of announcements are coming. We have a record number of innovations entries. Then we have the focus on human securities, where there are also innovations awards. If there’s one backdrop to the show for a lot of the major companies, it’s sustainability. They’ll be showing a lot of different green products, talking about how they make things.

Certainly there is a rebalancing in the tech community. A number of visible companies are laying off workers for different reasons. The reason Twitter laid off workers may be different from other companies. But there are still companies looking for a lot of people to hire. It hasn’t gotten to the point where there’s an issue. Some of the numbers, we don’t really know how strong they are. I’ve heard of companies that will advertise a job locally, and then outside their area they’ll see if they can get a remote worker. It’s tough to parse the job numbers and see what’s going on. But that’s going to play out. I had an Uber driver this morning who’d been a mortgage broker. The tech industry, it depends which industry you compare it to. Health care tech, with the announcements, seems a bit rougher. But if you compare it to mortgages or home building, I’d rather be in tech.

Tech has been very strong for many years. But there always is a business cycle. It seems like every 10 years — the last one was 2008-2009. In a way there was 2020. Before that you had 2000-2001, and 1990-91. There are recessions. The tech industry is not immune to the impact of the economy overall. But in the long run, the tech industry, consumer technology, so many different flavors of solving human problems, has a great future. It’s looking to hire good people.

The metaverse and crypto

Will the metaverse compete with physical events like CES?

VentureBeat: It definitely feels like the metaverse theme will be stronger this year. Lots of people are looking forward to that. There’s also the usual pushback on that, that it’s overhyped, that it’s a bunch of nonsense. What do you think as far as how big an opportunity we have with the metaverse?

Shapiro: If you look at it as web 3.0 and where things are going with a more immersive experience, if you broaden it out besides just the metaverse, there are plenty of opportunities whether or not they’re called the metaverse. You can see it in health training. Is it the metaverse when you have gamification of simulated medical treatment as an educational tool, which we’ll see at CES? Or we have beauty. L’Oreal will be there talking about augmented reality to demo products. Or gaming, what Microsoft is doing with Xbox and immersive gaming. Or automotive engineering, where we have BMW and Nvidia using Omniverse to build a virtual factory and planning space for research and development. Or sensory immersion, where you see haptics from Sony, or smell from OVR. You’ll see the different layers of the metaverse, in a sense, with software, hardware, and blockchain.

Blockchain has applications in many different areas. One of them is cryptocurrency, which is certainly in the news lately.

VentureBeat: Do you think crypto is a big topic at the show, maybe more in the sessions?

Shapiro: It’s a big topic. Coinbase will be there. We have a lot of conference sessions talking about it. It’ll be part of the buzz. But crypto is a subdivision, a usage for blockchain, which is a fundamental core game-changing technology, whether it’s establishing property rights in undeveloped countries, or tracking inventory, or even food donations around the world. A million other applications that people are thinking of. Blockchain isn’t going away.

There was a commentary this weekend on Axios where the author suggested that crypto be banned. I responded formally to that. I drafted an op-ed about it, which I’m sure my team is looking at.

VentureBeat: Certain dictators around the world would be happy about that.

Shapiro: I just kept thinking of — I’ll date myself. President Kennedy, before I was even conscious, but I read the quote. He said, “Why send a man to the moon? It’s not because it’s easy. It’s because it’s difficult.” There are very few cases where you ban an entire technology. The history of human innovation is that you adapt. The U.S. has especially been good at this. If you do ban something, it’s very narrow. We ban, at least for civilian use, devices that turn red lights green, or that can pick up wireless phone calls, or that can be used to steal cable. Those are the ones that come to mind that we’ve banned. If you stay away from military stuff, I can’t think of too many other things we’ve banned. But we also have narrow rules. I can spend a lot of time talking about this.

The U.S., as an innovative country, we have so many great things going in our favor for innovation. One of them is that we have a bias toward favoring new things, of not having to ask permission from the government to go forward and innovate. Along with our culture of innovation, we have our immigrant society. All the other good things that are part of our secret sauce for being one of the most, if not the most innovative countries in the world.

Policy matters

VentureBeat: The recent policy changes we’ve seen with the CHIPS and Science Act and some restrictions on what can be sold to China, there have been some things that have happened that I’d like your perspective on. But also things that you’re advocating for the future on policy.

Shapiro: Sometimes in my mind I keep those issues separate, but you combined them. Just to lay it on the table, as an organization, which I’ve definitely led this on — we don’t ask, as an organization, for money from the government for our industry. Having said that, the Act, we didn’t oppose it. We didn’t support it. We are concerned about the federal debt and deficit. But that does give us a principled position in Washington and increases our effectiveness to the extent that we do express concerns about things like the federal budget deficit.

In terms of the issues with China, these are extraordinarily complex issues. What I’ve advocated publicly is that we take a reasonable approach. My first book was written more than a dozen years ago, and it started out talking about China, what we had to do to compete, because China was going to pass us in certain areas. I’m pretty clear that — in a sense we’re frenemies. We have to do business with them, but we have to recognize that their interests and their focus, their absence of human rights, which has gotten a lot worse in a dozen years — it’s totally different than what we in the western world — we relish individual liberties. We have to be different.

We are advocating, and I have a piece on that that I wrote this week as well, is a focus on dealing with our friends and working together. This is consistent with what I’ve said in the past about bilateral agreements and things like that. We have to work together, because in the technology area there are tremendous areas of competition for the economic future. China has a good strategy, because they move things quickly. They produce a lot of engineers. They’re not ashamed of taking technologies that others have developed and repurposing them for their uses. And with the absence of privacy they have enormous data sets that are useful in artificial intelligence.

The show floor always has cool car tech.
The CES show floor always has cool car tech.

What we have is our diversity, our creativity. We’re still much more innovative in many different ways. If we work with our allies that will be good. But I also think one area where we have to change our public focus a bit is we have to be realistic. A shift from China-based production to production in countries which are stronger in terms of human rights will take time, the same way the shift from oil — given the number of cars out there and the enormous number of applications for petroleum-based products in things we rely on — we’re not going to immediately shift. We don’t have the infrastructure to support it. There are a thousand reasons that are just factual, that people are increasingly aware of, why we will not shift from oil immediately.

It’s the same with the shift from China. We have to shift a lot of what we do from heavy reliance on China, especially in areas that are essential. We have to shift them to friendly countries, more stable pro-democracy countries. But it’s going to take time. That has to be realistic. We think that imposing tariffs and things like that, it’s not a good solution. That just taxes American consumers and contributes to inflation.

To make a long story short, the China strategy that the U.S. has is super important. It’s very important that it be done in conjunction with our allies. I’ve been around the world in many places and spoken to our allies, some of their leaders, people in key positions, and there’s a great desire to work with the United States to shift forward in areas like artificial intelligence and robotics and self-driving cars and alternatives to petroleum-based energy and coal-based energy. Shifting to more renewable energy, wind and solar, and even nuclear, making things more energy-efficient.

What you’ll see at CES is a lot of folks in energy efficiency and alternatives. We’ve done a lot as an organization. We’ve worked closely on Energy Star and things like that. Like most solutions to big problems, there’s no simple silver bullet. There are many solutions, from consumer awareness, consumer conservation — which I’m happy to talk about, but not many others are in Washington, Republicans or Democrats, but conservation is important. Efficiency is important. Consumer awareness is important. Shifting to these new technologies is important. The solutions are there. It’s a matter of having honest discussions with policy makers. We have a huge number of policy makers coming to CES and we’ll be talking about some of these issues.

The keynotes

CES 2022 ony drew about 45,000 people.

VentureBeat: What is some of the interesting thought leadership you’re expecting from keynoters and government officials that are coming?

Shapiro: Starting with the keynoters, our day one keynote opening is John Deere’s CEO. As you know, we often have someone non-traditional. They’re focused heavily on food production and doing it in a way which can produce more food for the world. That ties beautifully into the United Nations securities and rights. We have Lisa Su from AMD, which has a huge number of interesting products and technologies.

In transportation we have two companies, because we’re one of the largest car shows or mobility shows in the world. We have the chairman of BMW and the CEO of Stellantis. I’m sure you know that Stellantis is the old Chrysler with Peugeot and AMC. You have a company with some tremendous brands. They’ll be very visible at CES. We have health care keynotes. Some really interesting people from Teladoc and major health care systems. Speaking of transportation, Ed Bastian, the CEO of Delta, will be speaking about how brands combine technology to create an image. We just announced last week, in addition to Stellantis, the CEO of NASDAQ, Adena Friedman. I’ll be interviewing her, actually.

In terms of policy makers we have a number of government officials confirmed. We haven’t announced yet. We expect a number of legislators, especially with the Congressional calendar where it is. They’ll be there more on Friday through Sunday than Thursday and Wednesday. That’s the opening of Congress. We had a record number of women senators at CES 2022. Jacky Rosen, the senator from Nevada, she’s a programmer who used to go to CES when she worked in Nevada. She thinks CES is super important for technology and for Las Vegas. She’s promised she’s going to bring even more senators. She’s pretty committed. We’ll have some interesting discussions.

In the health care area I’ve spoken directly to Mariannette Miller-Meeks, a health care official who ended up in Congress. She was a military nurse who worked her way through medical school while in the military, became a doctor, and went to ophthalmology school. Then she became a health care official in Iowa. She’ll be at CES as an expert on government, technology, and health care, how health care can benefit from technology.

There’s a diverse number of policy makers that I know are coming, that are focused in different areas. In the Michigan area alone, the focus on mobility, we’ll have a number of public officials coming, including the lieutenant governor. We always get a good smattering from the regulatory agencies, and of course we get congressional staff and members of Congress. We have a lot of people. The thing is, for a bunch of reasons involving ethics clearance and decision-making and calendars, they announce for the most part in the last two weeks of December or the first week of January.

VentureBeat: Are there any other major matters you want to bring up?

Shapiro: We have the Richard Branson-sponsored startup challenge. We’re bringing that back. We have CES matchmaking for startups. We have Eureka Park, obviously, the buzz area of the show for startups. We have pavilions from so many different companies — France, the Netherlands, Israel, Italy, Taiwan, Switzerland, and many others. We have some from Africa, like the Congo. Ukraine has a pavilion, which is exciting. We also have a big focus on smart home, which is absolutely huge at CES.

VentureBeat: How are you coming to terms with the hybrid nature of things? You want everybody to come to a show in person, but one of the big themes is the metaverse. People are evaluating whether to just go to this thing online. What’s the experience I can get if I go in person?

Shapiro: That’s a great question. That’s one we all face, even in our working lives. We’ll be discussing that at CES as well. We have some sessions on that. The tech industry obviously rescued the world in the pandemic. People were able to work remotely and stay engaged. We saved a lot of fossil fuels in the process. So how do we deal with that? We’ve learned a lot from CES 2022 and 2021. 2021 was all digital. 2022 was hybrid. It certainly shifted more digital at the end of December.

Crowds await entry to CES 2020.
The good old days. Crowds await entry to CES 2020.

We’ve learned that the digital experience compliments the live experience in many ways. A lot of the most dedicated digital users of our platform were those that attended CES, who were very busy people, who couldn’t get to all the conferences they wanted to or connect with all the exhibitors. We’ve decided to extend the platform through the end of February, so people going to the show can continue their experience for more than double the time we had in 2022. We’ll also offer a remote option for those who choose not to go to CES. Registration will open in a couple of weeks for that. Obviously it depends on everyone’s individual circumstances and what they’re interested in.

What we learned in 2021 and 2022, and even going around the world and talking to our constituencies and having live events in Amsterdam and Paris and New York and elsewhere, is that people want to go and see their customers, to find new customers, to discover new things that they wouldn’t be able to discover online. Serendipity is still a very important factor. The live experience, for many people, is the most important thing. Some people, either because of travel issues or concerns, the Chinese quarantines and other travel restrictions, or because the pandemic has changed how they perceive travel — my second son, who’s an adult, really hasn’t left his home much at all.

I had a chance to meet a lot of interesting people in connection with President Macron’s visit last week. I was standing in the security line with the head of one of the major airlines. He was talking about how some people are just not willing to travel anymore. But what they didn’t expect is that personal travel has come back huge. Business travel, companies are making different decisions around the ability of their people to travel. That’s just reality. We’ve heard, according to Trade Show Executive, that they’re about 60 percent back to where they were. It’s an evolving situation.

We’re very optimistic that CES is so important to people around the world — as buyers, investors, suppliers, partners, media, consultants, market analysts — that we expect a strong showing in Las Vegas. But the digital platform will be an important supplement to many of the people going to Las Vegas who are just too busy to get to the conferences or connect with the exhibitors that they want to. That’s what the platform will be for, to serve those people. We’ll be streaming the keynotes live, as well as a lot of the key conferences for those that are interested in seeing them.

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