CES comes to its senses and will go all-digital for 2021

The world's largest tech conference has announced it will be wholly online in light of the ongoing pandemic.

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For the first time in more than 50 years, the CES technology tradeshow will be a digital-only event in January 2021. The event is the first big event of the year for the Las Vegas events calendar, and a huge cash cow for the Nevada city's economy.

The Consumer Technology Association (CTA), which runs the event, today announced CES 2021 which was scheduled for January 6–9, 202, will be completely online.

"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,” said Gary Shapiro, CTA president and CEO.

Changing tack — Back in June, the CTA said CES would go ahead in 2021, albeit with some updated protocols. That's the approach IFA in Berlin has gone for, and largely been lambasted over. Some speculate that CES 2020 may have inadvertently aided the early spread of COVID-19 in the U.S. after a number of attendees took to social media to report they got seriously ill after the event.

The first of the 2021 events to fall — CES 2020 turned out to be one of the last big in-person events to happen before the coronavirus pandemic swept the globe and forced event organizers to shelve every other major conference of the year. With the second wave of infections expected to grip much of the northern hemisphere as it enters fall and winter (especially in the U.S., where simple preventative measures like wearing masks remain contentious in some regions), the cancelation of CES 2021 might be the beginning of a trend.

Probably best to avoid these sorts of scenes until further notice.DAVID MCNEW/AFP/Getty Images

In-person events still have a place — Various events, product launches, and related tech events have happened online in recent months, and while they're enough to communicate key information to the media or interested consumers, they're no match for the networking opportunities and hands-on opportunities that in-person events offer. Online-only events are also less likely to generate the sort of coverage or hype that in-person ones do. Getting to try an underwater scooter, or ogle automakers' latest vehicles, or build your own vibrator are all experiences journalists want to write about, and audiences want to read about. We look forward to the days where those things are possible again.

"We plan to return to Las Vegas for CES 2022, combining the best elements of a physical and digital show," the CTA says in its statement. Let's hope it's right.