From Paris to Las Vegas: Interview with CTA CEO Gary Shapiro

The boss of CES talks about ensuring a successful event and what tech is going to be on everyone’s lips in 2018
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CES is the world’s largest consumer tech trade show and effectively defines the agenda for the comming year. Ahead of the event in Las Vegas next month, we sent Marguerite Clark – editor-in-chief of PCR’s sister publication Radio World – along to CES Unveiled Paris to chat with Consumer Technology Association president and CEO Gary Shapiro about ensuring a successful event and what tech is going to be on everyone’s lips in 2018

This is your fifth Unveiled Paris event and you have an Unveiled Amsterdam event as well. How important are these events abroad in the promotion of the main CES event in Las Vegas?

They do two things. They definitely promote CES, the ‘mother show’, as they are appetisers for the main event. But second, they are events in their own right.

They help us to build relationships. For any one of them, we can grow these events bigger and bigger. We are looking for further growth.

We launched Unveiled Amsterdam this year and preliminary pre-registration numbers show that it is our most successful non-trade show launch outside of the United States, with nearly 500 attendees coming from all over Europe. We’ve also had other events around the world, that we move around. We’ve had them in the United Kingdom, Sweden, China, Israel, Japan and Poland. Plus we have the annual CES Asia, which is a fully-fledged trade show, attracting nearly 40,000 attendees in Shanghai. Next year will be our fourth year and it’s grown dramatically.

Paris is the biggest of your Unveiled events outside the US. Why do you think that it has been particularly successful?

I think the French have taken the concept of entrepreneurism very seriously. There is also strong government support. Emmanuel Macron has been to both this event in Paris and CES in Las Vegas twice.

The French not only talk about entrepreneurialism, they are well positioned for and are investing in it. The Station F campus inaugurated in July in Paris can house some 1,000 startups, and there is a sense all around the country that startups are a good thing.

In general, it’s easier than before to start a company today, since the level of capital required is not what it used to be. So if somebody has an idea, they can make use of 3D printing and maybe get things manufactured elsewhere if necessary. The amount of entrepreneurship around the world has greatly increased in recent years.

According to CTA, France is the second largest startup exhibitor after the US in Eureka Park at CES in Las Vegas. Why do you think that is?

We’ll have 800 companies in the startup area there in January. That’s 200 more than the previous year. We started a few years ago with about 100 firms. It’s growing quickly and it’s a very low-cost way forcompanies to expose themselves. Certainly the French government, through La French Tech initiative, provides some of that, and compared to many other countries the French have been very aggressive. The French have visible government leadership promoting French innovation and the result is a culture of startups and French entrepreneurs vying to be in Eureka Park within CES. It’s not easy to get in there. It’s curated, so the companies must fit within certain criteria, and the French have responded to it. It’s a combination of many good things hitting at the same time.

Are you planning on introducing the Unveiled event to other countries?

We do press events in various countries but the Unveiled events allow for exhibitors to show their products and this year we are doing that in Paris and Amsterdam, in addition to CES Asia. We keep moving them around the world. The fact that we are having our fifth one in a row in France makes it much more significant. The first Paris event in 2013 attracted some 277 participants, followed by 345 in 2014, 592 in 2015 and 704 in 2016. For this year’s show, we have a 20 per cent growth with more than 800 people attending.

In general, what percentage of CES exhibitors (and visitors) come from abroad?

For CES in Las Vegas, one third (both exhibitors and visitors) are non-US citizens. In 2017, we had roughly one third (60,000 out of the 180,000) attendees coming from outside the US.

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There have been headlines about how a few tech firms are becoming so big that innovation elsewhere is stifled. Some people have labelled them as the ‘Frightful Five’. Is this something we should be worried about?

Well, there are many issues there. For a long time, the EU strategy has been to establish ambiguous laws to attack major US tech firms and extort huge fines. Europe has produced few major tech firms in the last 20 years, while America has produced over 150 of them. So we think that Europe needs to look at why they aren’t producing major firms and I think a lot of that has to do with government regulation, which explains Brexit in part. I also think Macron recognises that bureaucracy is not positive for tech firm creation. But also the reality is that the US is better situated. We have a common market while Europe has many different markets with different languages, standards and regulations so there is an advantage the US has.

In terms of those firms themselves which are undergoing scrutiny, part of it is that they are very big, very successful, and they have been disruptive and have affected traditional media like broadcast and the motion picture industry. There are some industries that have not fared as well with new technology and they are piling on at this point, which is not helpful.

The reality is that innovation and technology is a core US strength, and it has fundamentally changed lives around the world for the better. But like any tool there are good and some bad things. Because of technology, the human condition is rapidly improving — we are living longer and healthier lives, we are detecting disease earlier. Soon with self-driving vehicles, we’ll be avoiding car accidents and death and we’ll be empowering disabled and elderly people. We’ll be doing all sorts of things with education, healthcare and transportation that we have never been able to do until now.

That innovation is positive, which is something as an organisation we are very much passionate about protecting. But we have to recognise there are also issues involved in privacy, cyber security and that the tools can also be used by bad players just like any great invention of mankind. With technology in general I think there are so many positive aspects that we have to talk with policymakers about how we can have the guardrails up to protect us from the negative. That is what governments are discussing, but they need to do so in a way that encourages innovation and not just use it as a tool to protect their own domestic industries.

The CTA is promoting policies that will encourage innovation in countries around the world and make sure that every global citizen can benefit from them.

Why is there so much interest from abroad about what goes on at CES?

CES is the top business event for innovation. It attracts people from many different lines of business to see the future, to get inspired and to do business deals.

Europe often does better than the US on international events because it’s easy to get around and there is vast support from the governments. There are a few events where the US is dominant. Certainly CES is one of them regarding innovation and technology. The business focus of the administration in office also plays an important part of the show’s success. We are seeing positive economic outcomes from Trump’s time in office.

You previously stated that ‘CES has become the world’s foremost hub for international business at large, regardless of industry’.

The advantage of CES is that it’s not just focused on consumer technologies. It’rsquo;s focused on all innovation and gathers leaders from all over the world. We have a whole portion of the show we started, which focuses on marketing in a digital world. It’s called ‘C Space’ and it brings together almost 10,000 people, the chief marketing officers and CEOs from major worldwide companies and a lot of different industries. Today innovation often starts with consumer products and goes to business; it used to be the other way around 20 years ago. Basically if you want to see the future, CES is there.

Another important aspect is the convergence at CES. To be successful today in the business world, one has to go across different industries (it’s no longer vertical); you must be aware and partner with the others. Also, many larger companies are looking to smaller startup companies to innovate, so that is how we position CES as well. Visitors to CES want to be inspired. Serendipity is very valuable. The internet is good but you do need the experience of seeing things first hand, have unexpected meetings and take in all the information you can gather.

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What do you consider the main tech trends in consumer electronics to be heading into CES?

Smart cities, sports tech, robotics, drones, as well as a major focus on artificial intelligence and healthcare. Going forwards for the next three years I foresee the continued growth in robotics, smart cities, AI and self-driving cars.

What are a few of the main challenges as CTA president in continually making sure success of each annual show?

We always try to make it fresh so it’s not the same show. So we continually bring in new items to make it different. The average attendee has 33 meetings during the show, we know it’s an efficient event for them. We try to look forward technologically so that they can plan ahead but also leave time for welcome surprises along the way. We spend a lot of time on logistics – the bus routes, the show app, the signage, different ways of getting people together so that they can see other industries, but also feel vertical so they are comfortable in their own common element. We have more than 1,000 speakers and choose our keynotes very carefully.

How participants rate their CES experience is very important to us. At the same time, we are pretty tight on not allowing consumers to come to the show. This is a business event, and we want to make sure it’s comfortable, because Las Vegas can only comfortably handle so many people. Having said that, the city is expanding the airport, the number of hotel rooms and the convention centre. CES, the NAB and other big organisations support Las Vegas so we can improve the shows for everyone. What I worry about is providing a great experience for our attendees.

Last year, a CES exhibitor claimed to have had two prototypes stolen from its stand during the show. What steps are you taking to keep exhibitors’ intellectual and physical property safe?

For intellectual property, we work with the FBI and others. There are steps we take that are public and non-public. We also have a way of dealing with the exhibitors and educating them about what they should do immediately to protect their valuables, and we cooperate with the authorities as much as we can. But physical safety is an even higher priority for us, and we spend a lot of time concentrating on that.

We have always focused on ways we can improve physical security for our attendees in visible and non-visible ways; and our organisation continues to make ongoing improvements. One example is that we are going to have picture IDs. This is something we have been putting in place for a year now.

What keeps you up at night?

I think we are heading towards a much better world where technology will enhance human existence and relieve a lot of suffering, pain and misery. I think it’s a wonderful thing, but it won’t happen unless we do everything we can to get innovators – both big and small – together to allow innovation to flourish and make sure there are policies around the world that encourage this. Innovation can come from anywhere in the world, and it’s our job to foster it.

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