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December 21, 2011

Microsoft Tells Consumer Electronics Show Adios after 2012 - 'You Can't Fire Me, I Quit!'?

By Peter Bernstein, Senior Editor

In the age of the Internet it is amazing how fast news and commentary travels. In not much more than an hour of Microsoft announcing that next month’s monstrous Consumer Electronics Show (CES (News - Alert)) will not only be its last as an exhibitor but also its last for giving a keynote speech (Bill Gates gave the opening address for eleven straight years and current CEO Steve Ballmer (News - Alert) has done the honors for the past three) there were 336 related items on Google. Yikes!!!

If you are alive and in the technology business you have either been to CES or wanted to go. While it started out as a gadget show, it morphed into an annual gathering covering all things tech that became a must attend for roughly 150,000 people, and a must read about for those unable to go.

In the name of disclosure I am unrepentant about how much I love this show. Las Vegas in January. What’s not to like? The only show I have enjoyed more is the mother of all trade shows, the annual CeBit in Hannover, Germany. But, I digress.

Here’s what they are saying

The news came on the Microsoft company blog with a post from Corporate Vice President Frank X. Shaw at noon EST. It is short and thus worth quoting in its entirety:

Our industry moves fast and changes faster. And so the way we communicate with our customers must change in equally speedy ways. To ensure it does, we constantly challenge our assumptions. For example:

  • What’s the right time and place to make announcements?
  • Are we adjusting to the changing dynamics of our customers?
  • Are we doing something because it’s the right thing to do, or because “it’s the way we’ve always done it”?

After thinking about questions like these, we have decided that this coming January will be our last keynote presentation and booth at CES. We’ll continue to participate in CES as a great place to connect with partners and customers across the PC, phone and entertainment industries, but we won’t have a keynote or booth after this year because our product news milestones generally don’t align with the show’s January timing.

As we look at all of the new ways we tell our consumer stories – from product momentum disclosures, to exciting events like our Big Windows Phone, to a range of consumer connection points like Facebook, Twitter, and our retail stores – it feels like the right time to make this transition.

Microsoft (News - Alert) has enjoyed a close to 20-year working relationship with the Consumer Electronics Association – and we look forward to working with CEA for many years to come.

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to seeing many of you on Monday night, January 9th, to kick the year off at CES 2012.

Hmmm! You have to love the statement about milestones not aligning with the dates of CES. Just weeks before the show, why not stick a thumb in their eye? Most companies, Apple (News - Alert) being a major exception of course, align announcements for things like (“wait for it”) CES, i.e., where the whole world is watching. And, just to add salt to the wound of yanking a booth that takes up virtually an entire exhibit hall, they added by implication that the relevance of the show was deemed so trivial that there was no need for their CEO to speak. 

My other personal favorite quote of the day comes from MSNBC.  Yes that MSNBC whose website is owned ironically by Microsoft and NBCUniversal. Reporter Suzanne Choney, managed to get the following quote from a recalcitrant CES:

In the fourteen years that we have invited Microsoft to deliver a keynote address at CES, the company has unveiled some great innovations, from operating systems to gaming platforms to mobile technologies, Both CEA and Microsoft have agreed that the time has come to end this great run, and so Microsoft will not have a keynote at the 2013 CES.

As noted in the title of this piece, this smacks of one of those “you can’t fire me, I quit” situations. Talk about putting a good spin on something. 

Trade show preparations on the scale of a company like Microsoft being part of something like CES takes years of preparation and typically involve long-term commitments. To announce this on December 21 when CES opens January 10, makes all of this defy credulity.

  • Will the Microsoft defection make the beginning of the end of CES?
  • Is Microsoft shooting itself in the foot on several fronts?
  • What if Microsoft gave a trade show and nobody came?

It is hard to argue with the observation by Shaw that the world is changing and that companies need to adjust accordingly. It is also hard to imagine the motivation of not just yanking a booth, but giving up a prime speaking spot. I guess CEO Ballmer’s ability to talk about the company’s vision, as opposed to just give product pitches, is somehow time constrained. Maybe he thinks he is more strategic in June?

With a dearth of real leadership in so many of formally trusted institutions worldwide, the decision by Microsoft to demur on what is arguably one of the most important stages is almost an abrogation of responsibility. CES will endure and hopefully prosper. One wonders about the Microsoft legacy. The company may have it right about milestones. This may turn out to be a big one.

Since trade shows are very relevant to gain insights, meet with partners, check out what’s new, and generate buzz, I’d love to share a beverage with you at TMCnet’s ITEXPO East event that runs from January 31 – February 3, 2012. Miami in winter. I can’t wait and can’t wait to see you.

Peter Bernstein is a technology industry veteran, having worked in multiple capacities with several of the industry's biggest brands, including Avaya, Alcatel-Lucent, Telcordia (News - Alert), HP, Siemens, Nortel, France Telecom, and others, and having served on the Advisory Boards of 15 technology startups. To read more of Peter's work, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Jennifer Russell
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