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CES 2021 won’t be happening in person
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CES 2021 won’t be happening in person

The CTA has canceled its show floors in Las Vegas, but the event will go ahead online.

Some 200,000 people descend upon Las Vegas each January to attend CES, with tech companies, analysts, vendors and press looking to see the latest and greatest in technology — although they rarely find it. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage on in the U.S., the Consumer Technology Association, the event's organizer, announced today that this year's event will only take place as a series of online webinars.

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"Amid the pandemic and growing global health concerns about the spread of COVID-19, it's just not possible to safely convene tens of thousands of people in Las Vegas in early January 2021 to meet and do business in person," Gary Shapiro, the CTA's president and CEO, said in a release.

Details are scant about what the 2021 format will actually look like, although the CTA's release promises "a new immersive experience" that will be "highly personalized."

While gaggles of tech bloggers will likely be disappointed that they can't see the newest connected refrigerators and robot vacuums, the real losers will be the tech startups missing out on their shot of finding that one investor or company that wants to take a chance on them. Each year, thousands of small companies from around the world come to Vegas, either buying a costly booth in the emerging-tech show floor called Eureka Park, or renting out a hotel room in a nearby casino to bring investors and journalists who are in town for CES to see their product.

The demise of the in-person event also scuppers an occasion for top execs to meet. For many foreign execs, this might be their only trip to the U.S. for the year, insiders have told Protocol over the years, and that face time is still often what's needed to secure the big deals. And not to mention all the parties: Events like MediaLink's party are where people want to go to be seen.

CES is the first big in-person tech event for 2021 that's been nixed, and was one of the last ones to take place in 2020 before the world went into lockdown. This year's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona was canceled as Spain became one of Europe's COVID hot spots, and SXSW in Austin was canceled at a time when many were still unsure whether the virus would take hold in the U.S. Now, it's starting to look like 2021 may be as socially distant as most of 2020 has turned out to be.
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