CES event turns to tech for virtual salvation

CES event turns to tech for virtual salvation
CES is one of the most experiential events in the world, ‘where attendees can actually see and touch and experience the latest innovations.’ (Reuters/File)
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Updated 11 January 2021

CES event turns to tech for virtual salvation

CES event turns to tech for virtual salvation
  • More than 100 hours of CES programming is planned, with many presentations captioned in more than a dozen languages

SAN FRANCISCO: The Consumer Electronics Show known for crowds, sensory overload, and deal-making is relying on technology it has long hawked to put pizzazz into its first virtual event, kicking off Monday.

The deadly pandemic that has derailed in-person conferences around the world during the past year forced the Consumer Technology Association to follow suit with an online version of the annual gathering in Las Vegas.

“CES is one of the most experiential events in the world, where attendees can actually see and touch and experience the latest innovations,” CTA spokeswoman Jean Foster said during a briefing ahead of the show.

“And while we can’t recreate that magic that happens in Las Vegas, we can bring our audiences a new and unique whole digital experience.”

Show organizers worked with Microsoft to build an online platform, and help exhibitors craft video presentations, digital press kits, and chat forums for engaging with attendees.

“We really built around the concept of people being able to interact with each other,” Foster said, noting that Microsoft Teams video-conferencing software was a strong component of the platform.

The digital version of CES will be a “true broadcast experience,” the centerpiece of which will be an online “anchor desk” staffed by social media and tech news veterans.

The anchor desk will stream interviews, announcements, analysis, and keynote presentations, as well as recap daily events and preview what is ahead, according to Foster.

More than 100 hours of CES programming is planned, with many presentations captioned in more than a dozen languages.

Digital CES is relying on artificial intelligence to match interests indicated in attendee profiles with exhibitors, hoping to put a software spin on the serendipity of stumbling upon cool products on show floors.

Software will recommend people or exhibitors to connect with, and provide tools for online meetings or chats.

A media day typically packed with press conferences in Las Vegas ballrooms will be replaced with streamed video presentations from companies, the list of which includes Hisense, LG, Samsung and Sony.

Freed from the Las Vegas time zone, CES press conferences will start early-morning New York time and continue into the evening.

Presentations from keynotes to press conferences will be shorter that they have been at real-life CES events to account for limited attention spans and allow time for fielding questions.

CES has more than 300 speakers lined up, and a heightened focus on sessions diving into issues such as privacy and 5G internet.

Sessions will be immediately available for replay on demand, and remain accessible until mid-February, according to CES organizers.

When the virtual show floor opens on Tuesday, attendees will be able to click into online exhibition booths for demos and chats.

“A lot of companies are putting a lot of energy into creating a great online experience,” Accenture global software and platform leader Robin Murdoch told AFP.

“One thing we’ve learned is that we’re all willing to try new things digitally.”

Building the digital platform was a major investment “in the seven figures,” according to CTA president Gary Shapiro.

Off-the-shelf solutions didn’t meet CES needs when it came “serendipity, discovery, connecting and the joy of learning,” Shapiro said during the briefing.

“We can’t recreate, obviously, some of the things in Las Vegas like the gambling and the ambiance and the face-to-face human five-sense contact,” he said.

Organizers shunned the idea of attendee avatars wandering around a virtual CES world.


France wants end to US-Europe trade spat

France wants end to US-Europe trade spat
Updated 17 January 2021

France wants end to US-Europe trade spat

France wants end to US-Europe trade spat
  • All eyes on President-elect Biden to resolve disputes between partners

PARIS: The EU and the incoming administration of US President-elect Joe Biden should suspend a trade dispute to give themselves time to find common ground, France’s foreign minister said in remarks published on Sunday.

“The issue that’s poisoning everyone is that of the price escalation and taxes on steel, digital technology and Airbus,” Jean-Yves Le Drian told Le Journal du Dimanche in an interview.

He said he hoped the sides could find a way to settle the dispute. “It may take time, but in the meantime, we can always order a moratorium,” he added.

At the end of December the US moved to boost tariffs on French and German aircraft parts in the Boeing-Airbus subsidy dispute, but the bloc decided to hold off on retaliation for now.

The EU is planning to present a World Trade Organization (WTO) reform proposal in February and is willing to consider reforms to restrain the judicial authority of the WTO’s dispute-settlement body.

The US has for years complained that the WTO Appellate Body makes unjustified new trade rules in its decisions and has blocked the appointment of new judges to stop this, rendering the body inoperable.

The Trump administration, which leaves office on Wednesday, had threatened to impose tariffs on French cosmetics, handbags and other goods in retaliation for France’s digital services tax, which it said discriminated against US tech firms.

Overturning decades of free trade consensus was a central part of Trump’s “America First” agenda. In 2018, declaring that “trade wars are good, and easy to win,” he shocked allies by imposing tariffs on imported steel and aluminum from most of the world.

While Trump later dropped tariffs against Australia, Japan, Brazil and South Korea in return for concessions, he kept them in place against more than $7 billion worth of EU metal. The bloc retaliated with tariffs on more than $3 billion worth of US goods, from orange juice and blue jeans to Harley Davidson bikes, and took its case to the WTO.

While Biden promises to be more predictable than Trump, he is not expected to lift the steel tariffs immediately. Even if he wants to, he could run into reluctance from producers in “rust belt” states such as Michigan and Pennsylvania that secured his election win.

Hosuk Lee-Makiyama, director of trade think tank ECIPE, said the US was unlikely to award Europe a “free pass,” noting that countries that had offered concessions to have their tariffs lifted could complain if Europe won better treatment.

Resolving future trade disputes could become easier, if Biden reverses Trump policy that paralyzed the WTO by blocking the appointment of judges to its appellate body.