LAS VEGAS—Any journalist worthy of the title yearns for those precious moments when he/she can cover a hot story live and in person. But writers making the annual trek to cover the annual Consumer Electronics Show may wonder whether the bloom is off the reportorial rose when it comes to press conferences at this particular show.
Take the better part of 5,000 journalists and analysts—the number who have preregistered, according to CES—and have them packed cheek to jowl into a long hallway running the length of one wing of the Mandalay Bay Hotel. They’re there to partake in Press Day, where leading companies hold press conferences the day before the exhibit floor opens. The reality, however, is that this media crew will wait in line sometimes for hours trying to make sure they can have a seat in one key press conference — unless given VIP status by CES.
The irony is that virtually no one needs to wait in line for these conferences unless he or she needs to talk to a participant. Live video from the show has become pervasive, with sites including CNET and many of the presenting companies streaming their events themselves.
You can sit in your bathrobe at home, a cat on your lap, and get as much from these press events virtually as you would if you were in attendance, without waiting in line.
At this year’s Press Day, some journalists waited in line for over two hours for the Samsung conference—probably among the most popular conferences scheduled. The line was snaked Disneyland-style into four long lines, each probably 25 yards in length. At the same time, other reporters queued up with long lines within the same hall and adjacent halls awaiting entry to the overlapping Intel, Huawei and Cisco press conferences. It was difficult to know which line you were in, and unclear you were in line for the conference you wanted.
Bodies were strewn all over the hall awaiting their conferences: sitting or laying down on the floor, computers in their laps, cell phones or tablets in constant use, propped up against walls, standing like cattle, leaning stoically on video camera tripods. One veteran remarked that the crush wasn’t as bad as last year when he waited in line for the last-ever Microsoft keynote address. Another woman pshawed, “I waited six hours in line one year for a Bill Gates press conference!”
Contrary to a more journalistic view of a press conference, no questions are asked in these settings: Presidential press conferences they are not. Press “presentations” is what they are. Some believe that the press corps only has itself to blame by accepting their passive role in these annual techno Kabuki Theater presentations.
The real value in being at CES is to experience the technology first-hand and question the people behind these new products. Stay tuned — the show floor opens today.
Skip Ferderber is a Seattle-area journalist covering the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week. He is a former Los Angeles Times staff writer, edited Millimeter Magazine in the motion picture and television technology industry, and contributes to Crosscut.com, Seattle Business Magazine, HD Video Pro Magazine and others.