Microsoft has announced that it will stop giving the annual opening keynote at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) after the next event in January 2012, and that it will no longer have its usual massive "booth". Corporate communications officer Frank Shaw said "our product news milestones generally don’t align with the show’s January timing". However, over the past 20 years or so of Microsoft's involvement with CES, it's hard to remember if they ever did.
Shaw's announcement on Microsoft's Official blog, 2012 Marks Final CES Keynote for Microsoft, mentioned "adjusting to the changing dynamics of our customers" and said: "As we look at all of the new ways we tell our consumer stories -- from product momentum disclosures, to exciting events like our Big Windows Phone, to a range of consumer connection points like Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft.com and our retail stores -- it feels like the right time to make this transition."
Part of the value of Microsoft's involvement with CES and the now-defunct Comdex trade show, both held in the same halls in Las Vegas, came from the opening keynotes delivered by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. These attracted many thousands of people (even if they included the ones who just wanted to be in the same room as the world's richest man), and were on most news desk calendars. Whatever Bill said was guaranteed coverage in the world's leading newspapers and many TV channels. Although the opening slot has been passed on to current chief executive Steve Ballmer, he just doesn't generate the same interest or involvement.
Gates wasn't a polished speaker but he knew it wasn't just about plugging Microsoft products. He tried to put industry trends in context, he showcased new ideas as well as new products, and usually included a star guest. Also, he often included things that were funny, such as his home video-type skits, even though the jokes were often on him. Ballmer has kept the Microsoft sales pitches but dropped the stuff that gave you more of an incentive to stay awake.
However, dropping the CES booth will have some effect on the rest of the industry. At CES and Comdex, Microsoft obviously showed its own products, but it also displayed thousands of innovative (and not-so-innovative) products from smaller companies. You might not have time to walk round the halls to see 30 Ultrabooks or netbooks or all-in-one PCs, or most of the Xbox Kinect games or Windows Phones, and so on. However, Microsoft usually had displays that brought many of the best examples together in one place, making them easier to compare.
Microsoft knows things we don't about the total cost of talking and exhibiting at CES, which is no doubt a considerable amount of cash. It may well have better ways to spend the money. Whether it will make as much impact remains to be seen.
Bill Gates's retirement video shown at CES 2008 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RRD-0h7PiiE Bill Gates' CES keynote featured a funny retirement video that included cameos by Jay-Z, Bono, Steven Spielberg, George Clooney, Jon Stewart, Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, and Barack Obama.