CES, the world’s largest technology show, appears to be in jeopardy due to rising COVID-19 cases in the United States. On Wednesday evening, exhibitor Lenovo announced that it would “suspend all on-site activity in Las Vegas,” following announcements from T-Mobile, Amazon, Meta, and others that they’d be ditching as well and despite CES organizers’ statements today that the show would go on.
T-Mobile was the most prominent exhibitor to bail early in the week. CEO Mike Sievert, one of the Consumer Electronics Show’s featured speakers, publicly announced on Tuesday that he would no longer be doing a keynote and would “significantly limit our in-person participation.”
Hisense typically has a large press conference and significant presence in the LVCC’s central hall, but on Thursday morning, Hisense announced it has decided to make its January 4th press conference fully virtual “to ensure the health and safety of our team.” The company still plans to have a booth at the show, with in-person walkthroughs for those attending and virtual ones for those covering it from home.
It was followed closely later in the day by Waymo, as Alphabet’s self-driving car company updated its blog post to explain the decision. “Based on quickly rising COVID-19 infection rates, Waymo has made the difficult decision not to participate in person at CES 2022. We are aiming to still virtually participate in some CES-related events. In particular, as part of our Self-Driven Women series, our co-CEO Tekedra Mawakana and our Global Head of Public Policy Michelle Peacock will speak at several virtual panel discussions with the Female Quotient, the official equality partner of CES 2022.”
Chipmaking giant Intel said on Thursday afternoon that “[after] consulting with health officials and in the spirit of Intel’s safety policy, our plans for CES will move to a digital-first, live experience, with minimal on-site staff.” Gaming accessory maker HyperX also said it’s pivoting away from in-person plans and will support conversations and activities virtually.
The dominoes continued to fall on Thursday, as General Motors announced its presence will be all-digital. Less than a day ago, GM confirmed to The Verge that it still planned to attend CES, where CEO Mary Barra was scheduled as a keynote speaker, and it planned to debut an electric version of the Chevrolet Silverado, but now that has changed.
A statement from the company says, “We have decided to move to an all-digital approach with our activation at CES 2022 in January. CES is an important technology platform, and we are continuing with our plans on January 5 to share our significant company news including the reveal of the Chevrolet Silverado EV.”
GM was closely followed out the door by Google, which has frequently used CES to host larger and more extravagant showcases for its new hardware. It had planned to have a booth at the event, but Bloomberg reporter Mark Gurman tweeted on Thursday that, like its corporate sibling Waymo, it is backing out of the in-person event.
In a statement given to The Verge, Google communications manager Ivy Hunt says, “After careful consideration we have decided to withhold from having a presence on the show floor of CES 2022. We’ve been closely monitoring the development of the Omicron variant, and have decided that this is the best choice for the health and safety of our teams. We will continue to collaborate closely with both CTA and our partners to identify and support virtual opportunities, and we look forward to sharing the latest Google innovations with you all.”
CES UPDATE: After closely monitoring the current trends surrounding COVID, it is in the best interest of the health and safety of our employees, customers, partners, and our communities to suspend all on-site activity in Las Vegas.
— Lenovo Stories & News (@LenovoNews) December 23, 2021
“T-Mobile will continue to serve as a CES sponsor and title sponsor of the DRL Championship Race but the vast majority of our team will not be traveling to Las Vegas,” reads the company’s press release. “Additionally, T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert will no longer be offering a keynote in-person or virtually.”
Lenovo typically has a medium-sized presence at CES, typically making an array of announcements, though most of its activity generally happens on the Las Vegas Strip and in private meeting rooms rather than a public booth on the show floor.
AT&T, by comparison, had a seemingly tiny presence at this year’s show. While the company’s “AT&T Business” division is listed as a featured exhibitor, the company was not expected to have a keynote. AT&T Business also only appears to have one very small booth in the Health and Wellness section of the Las Vegas Convention Center’s North Hall, with no booths for AT&T in general.
Other companies that might make a sizable impact if they ditched CES 2022 include Samsung, which has a featured keynote like T-Mobile, and companies that generally rent a lot of prominent space on the show floor, like LG, Panasonic, and Sony.
We’ve asked some key companies if they’re still committed; a Sony rep suggested to us that the company still plans to attend as of Tuesday, and LG said Tuesday that “Unless CTA says otherwise,” it’s “still on board.” CES maps show that LG has a very large booth at CES, but the company’s said it’s taking a hybrid approach, making use of QR codes and AR to show off its wares.
Bloomberg reported that AMD and Samsung are still planning a limited presence, Nvidia will have a virtual-only keynote, and that Qualcomm, OnePlus, and HTC still plan to attend. Sony and Samsung have said they are “monitoring local conditions,” which could be read as a meaningless platitude but also gives those companies an easy out if they decide the conditions have changed (as it has already been for companies like Google and GM).
On Tuesday morning, the Consumer Technology Association, which runs CES, stated that it still plans to host an in-person show. “At this point, we’re very much focused on having this show and doing it safely and putting the right protocols in place to ensure that people feel comfortable with it,” a CTA exec told Adweek.
As of Wednesday, the CTA said it’s received 42 exhibitor cancellations but has also added 60 new exhibitors in that time.
Here is the CTA’s full statement to The Verge from Jean Foster, head of marketing and communications:
CES will be in person on January 5-8 in Las Vegas with strong safety measures in place, and our digital access is also available for people that don’t wish to, or can’t travel to Las Vegas. Our mission remains to convene the industry and give those who cannot attend in person the ability to experience the magic of CES digitally.
While we recently received 42 exhibitor cancellations (less than 7% of our exhibit floor), since last Thursday, we’ve added 60 new exhibitors for our in person event. Registrations for both our digital access and our Las Vegas event are continuing to show strong momentum, with thousands more registrations in the last few days.
CES 2022 will go forward as important innovation for world health and safety, mobility and solving problems will be exhibited. Furthermore
,thousands of smaller and medium sized companies rely on CES for their business. We have increased our official count to over 2200 exhibitors and as announced yesterday many of our top elected officials from both political parties will be at CES.
Given CES’ comprehensive health measures — vaccination requirement, masking and availability of COVID-19 tests — coupled with lower attendance and social distancing measures, we are confident that attendees and exhibitors can have a socially distanced but worthwhile and productive event in Las Vegas, as well as a rewarding experience on our digital access.
In the recent past, we’ve seen the question of “will they or won’t they cancel due to COVID” take a while to resolve. Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the first big tech show to go on after the COVID-19 pandemic initially hit, held out for quite some time even as partners continued to cancel. Eventually, organizers did have to cancel MWC 2020. Major tech companies ditched the in-person version of MWC 2021 as well. CES 2021, on the other hand, was all virtual.
Update, 8:41 PM ET: Added additional company replies via Bloomberg.
Update, 10:09 PM ET: Added information about Amazon and LG.
Update December 22nd, 4:05PM ET: Added new information about AT&T, Intel, and a statement from the CTA, which organizes CES each year.
Update December 22nd, 9:57PM ET: Added information about Lenovo.
Update December 23rd, 9:56AM ET: Added statement from Hisense.
Update December 23rd, 2:09PM ET: Added statements from Waymo and Intel.
Update December 23rd, 4:05PM ET: Added statement from GM.
Update December 23rd, 4:50PM ET: Added statement from Google.