CES, the world’s largest technology show, is pressing on, but with fewer major exhibitors appearing in-person than expected due to rising COVID-19 cases in the United States. On December 22nd, exhibitor Lenovo announced that it would “suspend all on-site activity in Las Vegas,” following announcements from T-Mobile, Amazon, Meta, and others that they’d be ditching as well and despite CES organizers’ statements that the show would go on.
T-Mobile was the most prominent exhibitor to bail early that week. CEO Mike Sievert, one of the Consumer Electronics Show’s featured speakers, publicly announced on Tuesday that he would no longer be doing a keynote and would “significantly limit our in-person participation.”
Hisense typically has a large press conference and significant presence in the LVCC’s central hall, but on Thursday morning, Hisense announced it decided to make its January 4th press conference fully virtual “to ensure the health and safety of our team.” The company still plans to have a booth at the show, with in-person walkthroughs for those attending and virtual ones for those covering it from home.
It was followed closely later in the day by Waymo, as Alphabet’s self-driving car company updated its blog post to explain the decision. “Based on quickly rising COVID-19 infection rates, Waymo has made the difficult decision not to participate in person at CES 2022. We are aiming to still virtually participate in some CES-related events. In particular, as part of our Self-Driven Women series, our co-CEO Tekedra Mawakana and our Global Head of Public Policy Michelle Peacock will speak at several virtual panel discussions with the Female Quotient, the official equality partner of CES 2022.”
Chipmaking giant Intel said on Thursday afternoon that “[after] consulting with health officials and in the spirit of Intel’s safety policy, our plans for CES will move to a digital-first, live experience, with minimal on-site staff.” Gaming accessory maker HyperX also said it’s pivoting away from in-person plans and will support conversations and activities virtually.
The dominoes continued to fall on Thursday, as General Motors announced its presence will be all-digital. Less than a day ago, GM confirmed to The Verge that it still planned to attend CES, where CEO Mary Barra was scheduled as a keynote speaker, and it planned to debut an electric version of the Chevrolet Silverado, but now that has changed.
A statement from the company says, “We have decided to move to an all-digital approach with our activation at CES 2022 in January. CES is an important technology platform, and we are continuing with our plans on January 5 to share our significant company news including the reveal of the Chevrolet Silverado EV.”
GM was closely followed out the door by Google, which has frequently used CES to host larger and more extravagant showcases for its new hardware. It had planned to have a booth at the event, but Bloomberg reporter Mark Gurman tweeted on Thursday that, like its corporate sibling Waymo, it is backing out of the in-person event.
In a statement given to The Verge, Google communications manager Ivy Hunt says, “After careful consideration we have decided to withhold from having a presence on the show floor of CES 2022. We’ve been closely monitoring the development of the Omicron variant, and have decided that this is the best choice for the health and safety of our teams. We will continue to collaborate closely with both CTA and our partners to identify and support virtual opportunities, and we look forward to sharing the latest Google innovations with you all.”
With just a few days left before the show begins, the list of dropouts continues to grow. AMD had previously said it was still planning to appear, but on December 28th (via Tom’s Hardware) it issued the following statement: “AMD has decided to cancel our in-person presence at CES 2022 in Las Vegas and will instead transition to a virtual experience. While the AMD 2022 Product Premiere was always planned as a digital-only livestream, our in-person engagements will now transition to virtual in the best interest of the health and safety of our employees, partners and communities. We look forward to sharing all our exciting news as scheduled on January 4th.”
Another late scratch is MSI. The computer maker says in a post on its website that “Since December, the rapidly spreading Omicron variant has brought the USA a surge of COVID-19 cases. The health and well-being of our employees, customers and fans are our top priority. Hence, we have decided not to participate in-person at CES 2022 and will join the show virtually with our online product launch.”
OnePlus was not an official exhibitor at the show, but it says it has canceled an event that was planned to coincide with it in Las Vegas. TechCrunch notes that Proctor & Gamble, the parent company of Gillette and Oral-B, which have used CES to debut new technology, is also skipping the in-person event.
As of Thursday, December 30th, BMW, IBM, Panasonic, and Mercedes are either entirely out or have reduced their in-person presence.
CES UPDATE: After closely monitoring the current trends surrounding COVID, it is in the best interest of the health and safety of our employees, customers, partners, and our communities to suspend all on-site activity in Las Vegas.— Lenovo Stories & News (@LenovoNews) December 23, 2021
Meta, Twitter, Pinterest, and iHeartRadio also all announced that they won’t attend this version of the annual Las Vegas expo in light of a new wave of COVID-19 cases in the US, as have major tech publications including The Verge, CNET, Engadget, Gizmodo, TechCrunch, TechRadar, and Tom’s Guide.
“T-Mobile will continue to serve as a CES sponsor and title sponsor of the DRL Championship Race but the vast majority of our team will not be traveling to Las Vegas,” reads the company’s press release. “Additionally, T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert will no longer be offering a keynote in-person or virtually.”
Lenovo typically has a medium-sized presence at CES, typically making an array of announcements, though most of its activity generally happens on the Las Vegas Strip and in private meeting rooms rather than a public booth on the show floor.
AT&T, by comparison, had a seemingly tiny presence at this year’s show. While the company’s “AT&T Business” division is listed as a featured exhibitor, the company was not expected to have a keynote. AT&T Business also only appears to have one very small booth in the Health and Wellness section of the Las Vegas Convention Center’s North Hall, with no booths for AT&T in general.
Other companies that might make a sizable impact if they ditched CES 2022 include Samsung, which has a featured keynote like T-Mobile, and companies that generally rent a lot of prominent space on the show floor, like LG, Panasonic, and Sony.
We’ve asked some key companies if they’re still committed; a Sony rep suggested to us that the company still plans to attend, and LG said that “Unless CTA says otherwise,” it’s “still on board.” CES maps show that LG has a very large booth at CES, but the company’s said it’s taking a hybrid approach, making use of QR codes and AR to show off its wares.
Bloomberg reported last week that AMD (now out) and Samsung were still planning a limited presence, Nvidia will have a virtual-only keynote, and that Qualcomm, OnePlus, and HTC still plan to attend. Sony and Samsung have said they are “monitoring local conditions,” which could be read as a meaningless platitude but also gives those companies an easy out if they decide the conditions have changed (as it has already been for companies like Google and GM).
On December 21st, the Consumer Technology Association, which runs CES, stated that it still plans to host an in-person show. “At this point, we’re very much focused on having this show and doing it safely and putting the right protocols in place to ensure that people feel comfortable with it,” a CTA exec told Adweek.
The day after that, the CTA said it’s received 42 exhibitor cancellations but has also added 60 new exhibitors in that time.
Here is the CTA’s full statement to The Verge from Jean Foster, head of marketing and communications:
CES will be in person on January 5-8 in Las Vegas with strong safety measures in place, and our digital access is also available for people that don’t wish to, or can’t travel to Las Vegas. Our mission remains to convene the industry and give those who cannot attend in person the ability to experience the magic of CES digitally.
While we recently received 42 exhibitor cancellations (less than 7% of our exhibit floor), since last Thursday, we’ve added 60 new exhibitors for our in person event. Registrations for both our digital access and our Las Vegas event are continuing to show strong momentum, with thousands more registrations in the last few days.
CES 2022 will go forward as important innovation for world health and safety, mobility and solving problems will be exhibited. Furthermore
,thousands of smaller and medium sized companies rely on CES for their business. We have increased our official count to over 2200 exhibitors and as announced yesterday many of our top elected officials from both political parties will be at CES.
Given CES’ comprehensive health measures — vaccination requirement, masking and availability of COVID-19 tests — coupled with lower attendance and social distancing measures, we are confident that attendees and exhibitors can have a socially distanced but worthwhile and productive event in Las Vegas, as well as a rewarding experience on our digital access.
In the recent past, we’ve seen the question of “will they or won’t they cancel due to COVID” take a while to resolve. Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the first big tech show to go on after the COVID-19 pandemic initially hit, held out for quite some time even as partners continued to cancel. Eventually, organizers did have to cancel MWC 2020. Major tech companies ditched the in-person version of MWC 2021 as well. CES 2021, on the other hand, was all virtual.
As far as why “CES will and must go on,” CTA president and CEO Gary Shapiro published a Christmas Day op-ed in the Las Vegas Review-Journal that says, among other things, “ CES 2022 will kick off 2022 in messy fashion, but it will be chock full of innovation and full of entrepreneurs and businesses. We will all be taking risks. But without risk there is no innovation.”
Update, 8:41 PM ET: Added additional company replies via Bloomberg.
Update, 10:09 PM ET: Added information about Amazon and LG.
Update December 22nd, 4:05PM ET: Added new information about AT&T, Intel, and a statement from the CTA, which organizes CES each year.
Update December 22nd, 9:57PM ET: Added information about Lenovo.
Update December 23rd, 9:56AM ET: Added statement from Hisense.
Update December 23rd, 2:09PM ET: Added statements from Waymo and Intel.
Update December 23rd, 4:05PM ET: Added statement from GM.
Update December 23rd, 4:50PM ET: Added statement from Google.
Update December 28th, 5:24PM ET: Updated to note MSI, AMD, and Proctor & Gamble, added information from the op-ed written by CTA president and CEO Gary Shapiro.
Update December 30th, 9:22AM ET: Updated to note BMW, IBM, Panasonic, and Mercedes.
Correction December 30th, 11:03AM ET: An earlier version of this story said BMW and Panasonic are out of CES. In fact they will both have physical booths at the show, but have changed to virtual media events. We regret the error.