Next Year CES Should Call Itself CAS: The Consumer Ad-Tech Show

I, like 150,000 of my “closest” colleagues in technology, spent most of January’s first week slogging through the Consumer Electronics Show, which consumes all of the Las Vegas Convention Center and seemingly much of the rest of Southern Nevada for four very full days.

The show has evolved remarkably since 1967, but nowhere is that more obvious than with the advertising business now being done in countless hotel rooms and conference spaces up and down the Strip. For the second year in a row, it seemed like the show (and my time) was almost completely consumed by wheeling and dealing among publishers, brands and the tech firms that are intermediaries between the two.

Basically, while the hardware guys continue to dominate the show halls, major Strip hotels such as the Aria, Cosmopolitan and Wynn are filled with ad-tech firms, publishers, brands and others busily meeting with current and future clients. Everyone’s in town for the show, so why not make it a meeting opportunity? It’s become a much more productive way to get a lot of business done all at once with a lot of companies in the ad-tech ecosphere.

Amusingly, no one really wants to schlep over to CES itself, given the logistical challenges of getting there and back amid all the crowds (I ventured over for just one brain-melting afternoon). Instead, we’re all busy trying to lock down the next cycle of business, update clients about our latest capabilities and show journalists and analysts why our products are fabulous.

That was something of a trend last year, but it really took off in 2016. Twitter, for instance, constructed an entire fake cityscape at one hotel to meet its advertisers. Fox held its own private tech conference-within-the-conference, featuring talks by many big tech executives. It’s clear that CES is becoming, at least for our industry, CAS, the Consumer Ad-Tech Show.

Expect that to only continue as brands, journalists and tech companies of all kinds congregate at CES for purposes far beyond seeing giant, model-thin TV screens and oddball gadgets. So what else did I see at this year’s show? Here’s a short list:

  • Optimism still reigns in ad-tech, certainly among video-ad companies. The picture is more complicated for display-ad companies, who all seem to be busily trying to evolve their businesses to native and video advertising.
  • It’s time for better consumer ad experiences. Widespread use of ad-blocker technology is an almost direct response to ad experiences that suck. Thankfully, the industry seems to be learning its lesson. That means better targeting, more entertaining messages and more judicious presentation of all those ads. The industry response is way past due, especially in a medium that gives users so much control over whether they see advertising at all.
  • Expect more individualized ad experiences. This was probably the main point I made on a Digital Hollywood panel at CES. The more we can individualize and fine-tune an ad experience, the happier the recipient will be and the happier the outcomes for both brands and publishers. We have to keep building in, and using, more sophisticated technologies that get the right message to the right consumer at the right time.
  • Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality was everywhere. The continuing rollout of VR-capable hardware, from free Google Cardboard viewers to Oculus headsets costing hundreds of dollars, is an opening for all kinds of new content. But that content has to be monetized, and some of it will happen through advertising. What was funny at CES was that, while lots of ad-tech people talked about VR, no one would say they’re developing a solution (for the record, my company does have an Oculus developer kit, but we haven’t done anything with it).

So, another CES survived, lots of business done, and many hot trends spotted. In 2016, that’s a win. But I’m going to start calling it the CAS, because that’s what the show is becoming. See you next year.