Back in January of this year, the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) happened on schedule in Las Vegas. Less than two months later, the terms lockdown, coronavirus, COVID-19, and pandemic became parts of our lexicon and they continue to drive all aspects of life and work today and into the foreseeable future. Online events are now normal; Microsoft tested their ability to execute a large-scale virtual event with Microsoft Build back in May 2020, then iterated with Microsoft Ignite in September.
Microsoft’s investment in their cloud infrastructure over the last several years, which provides the backbone for services such as Microsoft Azure, Microsoft 365, Microsoft Teams, OneDrive, Power Platform, and other products gave them a competitive advantage in provisioning and supporting a large event across a distributed audience.
According to Microsoft, 197,000 people attended the online Build event and 266,000 people attended Ignite. These events typically draw approximately 35,000 attendees in person.
These successful Microsoft virtual events were key in the Consumer Technology Association's (CTA) decision to partner with Microsoft to host the organization’s annual Consumer Electronics Show in an all-digital format in January 2021.
CES is usually a sprawling in-person event that uses multiple venues across downtown Las Vegas to host over 170,000 attendees and more than 4,400 exhibitors over the course of this year’s four-day event.
Shifting an event that typically relies on letting attendees experience new consumer products hands-on will make for an interesting digital transformation. Product launches often occur through online events, especially for smaller companies, and they tend to be very flat without the opportunity to touch and try those items.
However, shifting CES 2021 to use a digital format like past Microsoft virtual events in 2020 may provide unique opportunities for companies to show off their wares and bring in attendees that might not have attended the in-person event previously. That is exactly what Microsoft experienced with both Ignite and Build. As noted above, having those events online boosted attendance more than ten-fold across both conferences.
CTA should expect similar bumps in their attendance, although it is not yet known how they will approach registration, which opens on December 1st, and whether the event will be no-cost for all attendees. During the three days of both Microsoft virtual events this year there were no reported outages or major issues with the services behind the online conferences.
Even though CES is a consumer-focused event, enterprise companies should be keeping an eye on this all-digital event to see how it goes overall. Since it is likely that attendance will increase as noted above and with in-person attendance numbers around 170,000, the potential is there for CES 2021 to host more than half a million attendees if they see just a threefold increase in registrations.
That alone will show if Microsoft’s cloud platform is ready for that scale of usage around such a tight schedule of events.