I've been back from CES for just about 24 hours as I try to collect my thoughts and what I experienced. A number of friends and industry colleagues have asked, “So, how was it?” And I'm struggling to answer what seems like a simple question.
How was CES 2023?
The best news is that the electricity and serendipity are back. While the crowds are still below their pre-pandemic levels and there are still a few holes on the convention floor, the former buzz has returned. It felt like a CES conference, complete with glitz, surprise, and energy – all elements on-hold during most of COVID.
Once again, we put together tours for radio broadcasting executives in collaboration with the Consumer Technology Association, CES's parent. And as is usually the case, many attendees were first-timers. I also brought my wife along, who has had to listen to stories of CES for more than a decade before finally getting a chance to see it for herself.
From the vantage point of these “CES virgins,” I got a great feel for the excitement and awe you experience the first time you get to this iconic event. Yes, it's like the first time you see fireworks.
We'll have a lot more to tell you about CES 2023 in the coming days and weeks. And we'll be hosting a free webinar later this month, so stay tuned for details on that. There's also been great coverage in Inside Radio last week, and again today, from the incomparable Paul Heine.
But for this first post since my return from Vegas, no gadgets or metaverse talk. Instead, I want to focus on the cerebral effects of this event on me – and others who attend.
On the first day of this year's journey, we were roaming around the Las Vegas Convention Center before it officially opened (don't ask). There were scores of hi-lo trucks and thousands of workers scrambling to finish exhibits for the following morning. It is amazing how good they are.
And we ran across a new exhibitor showing off something that appeared to be automotive technology. And we immediately went into analytic mode:
- What are they trying to do?
- Is it modeled after something we've seen before or does it appear to be new technology?
- What impact might it have on people? On broadcast radio?
- What's the business model? And how will they monetize it?
And it dawned on me: CES has taught me how to think. Or perhaps better put, think differently.
I've been influenced by a number of key people along the way. Buzz Knight convinced me to come out here in the first place. He “got it” early on. Former Cox-exec Bill Hendrich convinced us to organize the tours, a true game-changer for our company. Former CTA economist, Shawn DuBravac (pictured) has been especially influential, Sherpa-ing us through the CES abyss, providing us with perspective, leading many of our tours, and collaborating with us on the virtual tour of CES we put together in 2021, the year the in-person event was cancelled. And of course, the smart savvy CTA team, Gary Shapiro's troops led by Steve Koenig who not only played tour guide, but also spoke at our dinner this year.
The more often you attend this event, the more you gain perspective on technology, and how it is changing the industries you care about. That's been especially the case for Paul and me in obvious areas like automotive, “screenification,” voice, AI, autonomous technology, AR, robotics, and now, the metaverse. I realize that's a long list, but as I've reported to you in recent years, the silos have been breaking down as many of these technologies are integrating with one another.
But this same technology is also changing our world, and those tectonic shifts were on display at CES. Sustainability was a key theme this year, following resilience in years past. More and more, health and wellness are permeating this event, showing us the way to a better planet.
I will do my best to sum up all the new technology and gadgetry during the next several days and weeks. But what I won't be able to communicate is the “CES vibe” – the atmosphere that makes it different from every other event you've ever attended. As Buzz explains it, “Innovation is in the air.” There's a feeling of positivism, hope, and optimism at CES, no matter what's happening in the U.S. or the world – whether it's the economy, a war, or even a pandemic. CES is very much like an organism that endures but changes with the times.
And that's why you have to appreciate the prescience and briliance of Jerry Lee. Many of you know Jerry as the former owner of the legendary B101 in Philly. But Jerry has always been so much more than just an operator of radio stations. He's an adventurer, a dreamer, and a swashbuckler in search of how radio can do better. He thinks differently than anybody I've met in radio – ever.
Jerry's been to more than 50 of these events over the years. They've helped shape his thinking and world view. A number of years ago, I asked him why he shows up year after year, and without hesitation, he fired off this simple but profound, back at me:
“Because I don't want to miss the future.”
Each year, we meet at Lucky's, the food court outside Central Hall for a breakfast and a conversation. Believe me, I'm furiously taking notes.
And because CES is always inconveniently scheduled during the first week of January, it becomes a table-setter for the rest of the year. The themes, the connections, the collaborations, and the people we see and meet at CES reverberate over the next 51 weeks of the year. We have met so many great people at CES because the atmosphere is always collegial, warm, and helpful.
But as I sat on the plane heading back east, I started thinking about why CES is such a different experience. And it's because of the things you don't hear while roaming around the LVCC. I've compiled that list because so many of these quotes have become all too common in the world of broadcast radio, almost always to its detriment
We often talk about “crutch phrases” when coaching on-air talent – the things they say again and again that have become habits. Most of the time, they don't realize they're doing it. But management and ownership also have their “sayings” – their responses and reactions to the world around them.
So here are the 11 radio “crutch phrases” you never hear uttered at CES:
- Our market is different
- That won't work here
- We tried that and it didn't work
- Let someone else try it first
- We're already doing that (sort of)
- It could be a flash in the pan
- It's best we stay in our lane
- Where is it working now?
- Who's making money from it?
- This is not the time to take unnecessary risks
- But that's the way we've always done it
Of course, #11 is the classic – the one that has done more to sabotage traditional media in the digital age.
Call me crazy, but if more radio broadcasters spent the first few days of the year traipsing around the LVCC, our industry might be in a better place right now. As it is, more and more radio folks are making CES a destination each year, a very good sign.
We collaborated on a cocktail party Thursday night with Benztown, Beasley Media, Xperi, Radio Ink, Skyview Networks, Quu, vCreative, and Radio And Television Business Report. And a couple hundred radio broadcasters dropped by to schmooze and hang out. When Paul and I first started attending CES back in 2009, there were maybe a couple dozen of us. We are proud of the fact each year, more radio people show up – and end up coming back for seconds – and thirds.
Progress. And don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that attending a conference will change your business – or your life. But it will change your perspective. And in our hyper-paced, fast changing, disruptive environment, that's a positive.
I could feel the energy shift at our dinner Wednesday night before the tour. Our dinner speakers were CTA's Steve Koenig (seated) and NAB president/CEO Curtis LeGeyt. There was a vast amount of anticipation in the air as radio broadcasters representing all the “food groups” – commercial, public, and Christian – were well represented. This year, we had owners, CEOs, digital directors, media brokers, direct marketers, and air talent experiencing this event together. Where else does that happen?
This year at Lucky's, Jerry Lee was upbeat as ever about CES and how the future of radio could be so much better if we thought a little differently. The radio broadcasting industry has long been guilty of staying the course, and repeating the formula, despite a downturn that has now endured many years now.
We talked about the shortsightedness of quarter-to-quarter planning and thinking, and how that runs counter to the vast majority of the companies, brands, and corporations displaying in Las Vegas this week.
This year, Jerry's philosophical “take” was simple, but profound.
“We've got to start thinking about the future.”
Details on our free CES webinar, in collaboration with Inside Radio, coming soon.