It’s the time of year for saving money!
Fact – the Consumer Technology Association, formerly known as the CEA back in an era when CES was the specialty AV industry’s only global show isn’t the audiophile industry’s lobbyist anymore. Nowadays they are more about 5G than high-performance sound. Obviously, there’s a void…
I missed my first Consumer Electronics Show in 24 years in 2018. But in 2019 was forced to make a one-day trip back to Las Vegas at the peak of flu season and at maximum expense. My reason for the trip had little to nothing to do with any publication. With a little outside help, including an interpreter, I was able to deal with my original reason for being there quickly and effectively; leaving me with a bit of a conundrum: do I go to the Central or North Hall to see the bleeding-edge video technology from the likes of Samsung and Sony, or do I take the monorail to Harrah’s then hoof it over to The Venetian to see what was left of the audiophile industry? I opted to go to The Venetian, and what I saw was almost unrecognizable.
For generations CES was filled with the absolute best in audiophile products. In 1994, at my first show and ironically the last at the legendary Sahara, all of the big audiophile companies displayed their latest goodies. To not be there was a death knell for your brand back then. Every dealer in America and every large-scale dealer from the rest of the world went to Vegas for CES. Also, every international distributor who sold AV products to every distant corner of the world was there. The long-term cost of being at CES was small compared to the actual dollar cost of not being there. It delivered ROI – return on investment in spades. The sector was so successful at one point that a “carpet bagger show” called T.H.E. Show offered a next-door or across-the-street option for audiophile companies who wouldn’t pay up what the CEA asked for a display space. And there was enough demand to make both venues work as recently as a few years ago…
Flash forward to 2019 – there was one third of one floor of the Venetian dedicated to specialty audio. One floor. That’s it. Historically, high-end audio used to have a strong presence on the 29th and 30th floors, as well as a few of the Venetian’s other upper floors, with the biggest suites on the 35th. That was all gone.
I have heard comments repeated from the top leadership of the CTA saying, “we don’t need audiophile exhibitors because we can replace them with a nearly unlimited supply of Chinese OEMs” and they are right. I spent some time in the city-like “Asia Tent,” and there were more companies selling toaster ovens that can burn an image of SpongeBob onto your morning waffles than companies selling meaningful floor-standing speakers by a 20:1 margin.
We know the CTA has abandoned the specialty AV business during CES in place of the “T” of the CTA, but what should be done about it? Much like agriculture and domestic manufacturing, specialty AV could benefit from some clear, strong, and powerful advocates. I think the specialty AV companies should team up and create their own lobbyist group outside of the CTA. Internet of Things (IoT) hairbrushes, drones, and driverless cars are all sorta cool, but they ain’t the date CTA came to the prom with.
I can think of people with the chops to do the job who have the industry experience and long-term vision to help our industry thrive in terms of leadership. Here’s several, right off the top of my head…Marc Finer, a consultant who helped Sony launch the Compact Disc back in 1983 and who helped launch the DEG (Digital Entertainment Group) as well as the HD Audio movement more recently, comes to mind. Also, Jack Shafton, the recently retired head of sales of GoldenEar speakers and formerly of Paradigm would be another good choice. Mark Ormiston, the founder of the single best specialty AV retailer in the nation, Definitive Audio in Seattle, is another good possible choice. Former CEA Audio board member Jeff Hipps would be another one. Mind you, I didn’t ask any of these people if they would want such as role, I am just saying they might be really good at it. Some might actually be horrified at the thought…
The audiophile industry is at a critical crossroads in 2019. The business must transition into selling to a new generation or it will never grow and flourish as it has for more than 30 years with Baby Boomers. Leadership, guidance, vision, and political power all would and could help the effort. And for as much as I hate “big money in Washington,” it is currently how the game is played, and our industry simply isn’t playing it in any meaningful way.
What say you? Is the CTA good enough? Who would you want leading the audiophile and specialty AV business if you had your say? Comment below. We love to hear from you.