The header says it all. I wasn't there. What could I possibly have to write about then? Well, just one thing, really. Knowing of specific manufacturers introducing new products and relying on the various show reports to learn about those launches drove home just how much each of those show reports overlook. But before you infer arm-chair sabre rattling while others were running their soles off in the sweaty trenches, no such cheap noise. It's a simple (dis)credit to the CES having gotten too enormous for its own good. It's become impossible for anyone to see it all nor arguably navigate it successfully without peppery expletives.

If it all were under one roof, one could use the show guide to cherry-pick specific exhibits or displays and probably see all of them in the allotted time. But with the move of the high-end audio exhibits to the Venetian plus Sands and Mirage and T.H.E. Show spread out over the St. Tropez and Alexis Park, plus special-invite outboard exhibits hosted elsewhere, never mind the Las Vegas Convention Center main floor aka The Zoo, one wonders whether the event's sheer size hasn't exceeded its purpose. Accommodation rates during show time are astronomical, traffic is insane and venue hopping entails goodly down times to travel the few but endless city blocks to get from point A to B. Just to enter something as massive as the Venetian and make it up to the top floors via elevators could entail a mind numbing 20 minutes through the smoke and mirrors of casino glitz.

As a result, one hears comments like "slowest attendance ever in the 8 years we've done this" from a T.H.E. Show exhibitor on the far side of the action. From a very famous foreign reviewer invited to sit down for a listen, one gets "I don't listen to anything at shows anymore. I don't know the room, the system... what's the bloody point?"

If one did expect any serious assessment of gear under show conditions -- and by extension felt that anything less than seriousness was a waste of time or mere social obligation to the exhibitors having spent money to be there -- indeed, what's the point? Is merely rushing down the aisles with cameras a'clicking and flash a'bouncing off the ceilings what attendance at CES has been reduced to for the press? Different folks on a mission to cover things for their readers deal with this answer differently and none is right or wrong. Some create huge photo blogs with nary a photo credit in sight. It's audio porn without a soundtrack. Others follow the more-is-merrier pictorial mass recipe but add manufacturers' names and models. Others again are very selective -- which by implication means their reports skip over a lot -- but do actual reporting, i.e. they think about what they saw and heard, then pen their commentaries accordingly.

For any arm-chair attendee following this event from afar, it's become mandatory to read all the various attempts at coverage in the print and on-line press as well as enthusiast fora, CNN and YouTube streaming videos. Triangulate, cross reference, infer and assemble an impression. It's become impossible for any one entity to offer intelligent commentary and comprehensive coverage, even for those who send out an experienced team in military recon mode. The disproportionate scale of CES and parallel showings isn't just problematic for readers. It's problematic for the content providers, i.e. the actual exhibitors. When event growth equals higher rates but also less traffic to booths and exhibits because attendees can't realistically get to everything,
many of the smaller makers won't be able to justify coming again. Or, things default to punitive attendance where one avoids appearing to be in trouble which could create a poor business year in the show's wake just for refusing to participate in madness.

There's no easy solution. Why exhibitors attend in the first place isn't the same for everyone. New manufacturers need exposure, period. Show reports, photo ops, word of mouth, newly signed dealers and distributors ... all of that and more make it mandatory to participate. If you're an already established maker with solid distribution, you may not want more distribution or press. You may want quality time with your existing business partners, far away from the sensory overload of The Strip. So you book a nice suite in a quiet hotel, issue private invitations and meet with all your foreign partners in one place at one time to conduct business. Between these two polarities of maximum exposure vs. quality meetings with preselect groups runs the gamut. Where someone falls determines which venue they choose or can afford.

One thing pretty much anyone with any experience agrees on is simply that making decisions based on what things sound like during temporary trade shows is inconclusive at best and plain erroneous at worst. That being the case, why do so many manufacturers continue to bother with active exhibits? You can't win. If it sounds bad or simply okay, you've lost already; if it sounds good, serious distributors will still insist you send them samples before committing.
If I were still on the manufacturing side of the fence, that's the most relevant question I'd ask myself. Why bother going active?

None of my short commentary offers solutions, pretty pictures or actual product news. It's just some musings from the safe distance of afar (albeit earned, you might say, from 12+ years of attendance as a manufacturer, then press member). Kudos are due to those who did attend and already posted their reports or plan to do so shortly (and a bit later in print). From Stereophile to SoundStage, Positive Feedback to SonicFlare, AudioFederation to AudioXsell, AudioCircle to AudioAsylum, Stereomojo and EnjoyTheMusic to CNN and YouTube videos to dealer website reports and individual attendees' blogs, there's plenty of evidence just how sprawling this event has become. Which makes me be very fine with not having gone. I'm sad only not to have seen the many folks I interact with over the course of a year; of not meeting those I haven't yet but write about; and of missing out on the many unexpected meetings one could never predict.

In the end, the sheer enormity of this beast intrudes again even on that count. Of the many after-hours invitations, one can only attend a few over the course of 4 evenings. You'll be slighting and disappointing many others. If you're leery of the diplomacy involved and refuse the punitive attendance view, not going can become the only sane choice left. My compliments to Jeff Day and Michael Lavorgna on staff for braving Sin City this year and doing the thing to be our small contribution of covering the colossus CES and T.H.E. Show + have morphed into...