The Consumer Electronics Show is heaven for anyone who is obsessed with technology, loves waiting in long lines, and is tickled to sit in traffic all day.
If you work in entertainment, attendance is now mandatory. ESPN head John Skipper, for example, played hooky at Television Critics Association press tour happening at the same time in Los Angeles to attend CES instead.
Thousands of other executives — as well as gadget makers and nerds — descended on the Las Vegas Strip for the world’s biggest annual confab for cutting-edge technology and industry deal-making.
Five trends stand out from this year’s conference that Hollywood attendees won’t forget. If you remember nothing else about CES, remember this: Digital video.
1. Digital video rules the show
It stood out, from Netflix’s keynote breaking news of its sweeping 130-country expansion to YouTube’s closing address.
Often, the discussions involved possible threats to traditional entertainment companies; Both Netflix and YouTube dedicated most of their keynote presentations to pointing out how technology has put many norms of traditional television on track for extinction.
2. Virtual reality moves closer to becoming a reality
Other trends presented big opportunities. Virtual reality, a type of immersive video that puts the viewer in the middle of the action, offers companies the chance to take the lead in a totally new format of entertainment, and CES highlighted high-profile headsets that are closer to consumers. One key moment? The first pre-orders of Facebook’s Oculus Rift.
3. Drones, drones, drones
The flying unmanned robots whizzed around the showfloor at CES this year more than ever before. More than just toys, they now included large professional airships that can carry full-size cameras.
The entertainment uses for drones are exciting but complicated in the real world. Using the flying robots can be cheaper and they can allow creators to film in places a helicopter can’t go. But it also removes the director from the camera itself. The person calling the shots is stuck on the ground watching a monitor of the video feed while the flying camera soars above.
4. Security is all bark, no bite
CES 2016 will be remembered by all, not just entertainment insiders, as the year of the phantom security menace.
Weeks before the show, the Consumer Technology Association that organizes CES warned it was instituting stricter security measures. The organization prohibited rolling luggage, limited bags to two per person, and suggested carrying belongings in something transparent, or in mesh bags, for easier searches. When the convention rolled around, bag checks were scattered. I carried two bags with me at all times to all three main CES sites and never faced a single request to surrender my possessions for a search.
5. Tech’s big CES fail: Getting from Point A to Point B
For a conference putting the most innovative technology on display, CES falls short on solving one pretty mundane problem: Getting around. Every year, CES is one of Las Vegas’s biggest events — last year, 170,000 people attended — and every year, visitors face hour-long waits in taxi lines and shuttle buses trapped in gridlock.
This year, the introduction of ride-hailing apps in Las Vegas raised hopes of alleviating the cab queues. Companies like Uber were cleared to operate there in September. But Uber surge pricing pushed the costs of rides as high as 6 times the normal charge. Desperate travelers either paid a sky-high price or shuffled back into taxi lines — not the salvation anyone hoped for.