Dear CES Exhibitors: Sony Schooled Your Press Conference, and Here’s Why

As the years go by CES becomes more and more massive, and with the first day of the show upon me and press conferences tidily wrapped up, I’ve finally realized something. It’s going to be nearly impossible to see everything.

In that regard, CES is a lot different than, say, the Electronic Entertainment Expo, where gamers and journalists aim to deem one company “winner” when the show concludes on its third and final day. At CES, there is no winning. With 140,000 attendees and enough exhibitors to justify the use of indoor Google Maps, your only real chance at CES as an exhibitor is to stand out and not screw up. If you’re packing killer products, that’s even better. And thus far, the company that has best achieved those three goals (and pulled them off in style) is Sony. Press conference-wise, it’s not even close.

Covering Your Bases

Putting on a stellar event is no small feat either — Toyota is a clear runner up, as its latest product (the hydrogen-powered Mirai sedan) is so remarkable and so game-changing that the press conference could have been held next to a dumpster out back and it still would’ve stolen the show. Even so, Mirai is one product, its rollout is five years long, and the truth is there’s still a lot we don’t know. Even if its 300 mile range is completely insane.

And yet, Sony’s presentation is what stole my heart, and it’s largely due to an expert blend of great product and great presentation. The venue certainly didn’t hurt either. While Samsung’s presser took place in a crowded, dark auditorium, Sony set up chairs within its actual CES booth (which is completely massive). The surroundings were bright and lively, people were excited, and most importantly, nothing about the event felt stilted or canned. I’m looking at you again, Samsung.

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Where one tech giant brought out hired-gun artists and movie execs to read teleprompter copy about its new 4K televisions, Sony brought in Tony Hawk to hang with one of its execs onstage and very naturally recap what it was like to travel the world with the new 4K Action Cam Sony will soon be releasing. We saw footage, we saw real discussion, and we saw results. What we didn’t see was prepackaged testimony. As Tony Hawk himself has probably said at one time or another, why not keep it real?

Out with the Old

The idea that certain technology entities still see staged teleprompter encounters as the best way to promote a product in front of a savvy audience of experts is rather puzzling, and unfortunately it draws attention not just to companies that have yet to adapt, but to CES itself. Maybe it’s Sony’s experience at E3 or with unique promotion through its other online channels, but for whatever reason the company gets it. It could simply be a case of trickle-down leadership — CEO Kaz Hirai’s opening words were pointed, articulate, and well thought out, and even as presenters changed, the smoothness of delivery continued.

Sony’s waterproof 4K Action Cam is impressive, but products aren’t the only reason they stole the show yesterday.

That’s not to say that other press events were useless, and as I mentioned earlier, Toyota’s showing was a damn impressive one. But the presenters I enjoyed most showed off not just fantastic products and innovative ideas, but a level of value and respect for their audience. After all, there is a certain absurdity to trade shows. Say I walk into LG’s press event. I sit down, I check my LG phone. Or I take out my Samsung Chromebook to take notes, or play my PlayStation Vita as I wait for Sony’s event to start. Press attendees are using a company’s products to write about said company’s new products, so that other people can eventually buy said company’s products, and fantasize about attending CES to see said company’s products sooner rather than later. Someday maybe they will, and CES’s total headcount will continue to balloon every year as a result. And so the cycle continues.

What Is CES Really About?

At the risk of sounding cynical, certain press conferences actually made me feel like an unpaid lackey of the company presenting. Not because there’s any obligation to report on products positively, but because the presenter assumed that I would. It’s actually quite tiresome. Sony didn’t just respect my time and my integrity, but made an effort to entertain and delight the audience of interested, generally passionate showgoers, as opposed to treating them like disposable press minions. An innocent sense of wonder is what draws us all to technology and events like CES in the first place, and the fact that Sony hasn’t completely lost sight of what inspires tech-lovers (as many of its lumbering industry cohorts clearly have) is a testament to the company’s vitality. There’s a powerful lifeblood surging through Sony right now, one that starts with Mr. Hirai and appears to have infectiously spread throughout most of the company’s corporate and creative structure. It’s a wonderful phenomenon, and the industry needs more of it.

As a writer it’s important to maintain a certain level of objectivity, and it’s not as if Sony’s event was perfect or miraculously lacking a single flaw. But in the moments after it concluded, I felt as though this vital lifeblood I mentioned earlier had somehow spread to me, too. It was refreshing, and short of the dozens of innovative startups inhabiting the lesser-traveled halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center (there are many, so please read about them), “refreshing” is not an emotion you can dependably expect to feel at CES very often. In that sense, Sony did something very, very right.

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At the end of the day, most products major companies churn out at CES aren’t going to bomb. There’s no doubt it my mind Samsung’s new SUHD televisions will sell like gangbusters, as will Sony’s $1000 4K Handycam. Furthermore, when both inevitably succeed, few are going to remember whose CES press event did a better job of unveiling them. As for me, I will try and remember, if for no other reason than to appreciate the product-makers who still value the core reasons why a technology convention is a thrilling, exciting, and wondrous experience to behold. Otherwise, us 140,000 attendees may as well just watch from home.

Image Credits: CraveOnline, Mashable, and Getty Images