CES 2012 Sign

If you’ve never been to the Consumer Electronics Show, it can feel like a massive tech carnival — a wonderland of gear covering practically every area of life imaginable. There are rows upon rows of cars, home appliances, mobile devices, accessories, smart TVs, and myriad other machines and gadgets, all clamoring for attention.

For some tech geeks, this would be heaven. Content producers, however, tend to be too swamped to notice, hunting for the truly exciting stuff amid all the excited people talking excitedly about their wares. That’s no easy task. Everyone thinks their product is amazing, but finding the ones that actually are is like looking for a needle in a sea of big, noisy haystacks. And so, as members of the media, we grab our laptops, cameras and/or sound equipment, and bags of collected product literature, and haul them around the three huge exhibit halls and loads of private interview rooms to scour the venue for any signs of hotness. Once in a while, when we’re lucky, we even manage to find some. Then begins the task of filming, editing and uploading that footage via the clogged up, overcrowded internet pipes — which is a bit like trying to shove a watermelon through a straw. (Note for next year: Look into carrier pigeons.)

CES is often an experience of extremes. Many members of the media cycle through exhaustion, intoxication (huzzah for press parties), giddy adrenaline, and then exhaustion all over again. Sometimes they remember to eat. Most times, they forget. It’s like a colossal, pumped-up, caffeinated blur — What time is it? Which day is it? — and, at least for me, the overwhelmingly male attendance at these tech shows was particularly striking during breaks. The stunning lack of traffic in the women’s restrooms is, frankly, a phenomenon that rarely happens anywhere else. (Score one for the she-geeks!)

So how did TechnoBuffalo spend their time at CES? Well, if you caught our coverage, it shouldn’t surprise you to know that some of us filmed our faces off. Others shot vids and pics, edited them, or wrote until our fingers cramped up. It was a week of meetings, booth tours, demos, execs begging for attention, reps yelling at us for ignoring the “Please do not touch” signs, chats with one of the many booth bunnies holding demo devices precariously between their Lee press-on nails, and much, much more.

Now that it’s over, we realize that this year’s show was unique. Given that the masses are already familiar with 4G/LTE, OLEDs, 3D displays, tablets and such, products hyping them didn’t spark any game-changing trends. It dawned on me that we might be a bit spoiled now — accustomed to big announcements and industry-defining advancements pushing forward at a rapid clip, particularly the last several CES shows — but there was no single groundbreaking technology to anchor the event this time around. Casual conversations with other journos, broadcasters and bloggers revealed the one underlying question on every reporter’s mind: Where was the “wow” moment?

Not that there was a shortage of products in the convention center. We did manage to spot a few favorites this week, including:

Jon Rettinger: LG 55-inch OLED TV
Sean Aune: Cube 3D Printer
Mike Perlman: Canon G1 X
Noah Kravitz: Nokia Lumia 900 (but in Cyan ONLY!)
Adriana Lee: Parrot AR Drone 2.0
Jon Quach: Nintendo Wii U

(For more picks, look for our Best of CES award winners post!)

So there was plenty of products, and lots of lights, cameras and action. And still, somehow, the biggest trend there had nothing to do with the devices. It was the press strategy of the companies showing them off.

Before the event, the New York Times ran an article on the waning influence of shows like CES. We noted some signs of it too. Sure, Apple regularly sidesteps the show in favor of its own media events (though iOS marketing veep Greg Joswiak was reportedly spotted, perusing the booths and checking out the competition this year). But just last month, the news broke that Microsoft would no longer be exhibiting or doing keynotes there beyond 2012. There were others, like Asus, who simply snagged a tiny space, saving its droolworthiest pressers for appointments at a resort off the Las Vegas strip. It all points to one thing: That madhouse of people, sound, signage and marketing stunts might be making it a real challenge for companies to get buzz by standing out to the press.

This year marked the largest event in CES history, with 3,100 exhibitors, 1.861 million square feet of exhibit space, 153,000+ attendees, and more than 20,000 new product launches. And so, with all that going on, some of the top tech companies chose to hold more intimate press gatherings off-site, in places like hotel suites and other locations, far away from the spectacle.

You’ve got to wonder where all this is going. We did. Even though the event has grown over its 44-year span, there’s a question of what will happen if its importance to the industry subsides. In other words, would this stressful, frenetic, glorious show, as we know it, go on? Maybe it will or maybe the writing’s on the wall. It certainly feels like we’re on the brink of change somehow. It was this thought that gave our last day a little touch of melancholy.

We stayed until the very end, gathering our stuff and making our way out at 4:00 PM on Friday. At 4:02 exactly, we gazed back and saw the crew step in to break everything down.