Here’s What Agency Execs Are Looking for During CES 2017

AI, VR and IoT will be front and center

If you're in the worlds of tech, media or advertising, chances are the anticipated themes of the annual Consumer Electronics Show this week in Las Vegas will be of little surprise.

While self-driving cars and virtual reality were all the rage in 2016, many execs say artificial intelligence and connected homes will be the focus this year. From Jan. 5-8, nearly 4,000 companies will be unveiling or pitching pieces of software and hardware to investors, advertisers and media at the Las Vegas Convention Center. But for the 170,000 people heading to the desert, the intersection of connected homes, artificial intelligence and virtual reality will be battling to convince agency executives that they're a marketing oasis and not an overhyped mirage.

Anyone following along with unveilings this week will likely get tired of hearing "smart" this or "smart that." Sleep Number is debuting a smart bed, while appliance maker Gourmia is expected to debut six appliances (including an air fryer and sous vide pod) that can connect with Amazon's Alexa voice assistant. There's even a solar-powered "intelligent patio umbrella" equipped with security cameras and controlled lighting.

"AI is now going to be massive in the marketplace and I want to see how the newest pieces of hardware will use the technology," said Mike Barrett, president of San Francisco-based agency Heat.

Just a few years ago, CES was only a place for a glimpse at the slightly distant future. However, in recent years, much of what will be announced will available as soon as later this year. And that short-game, long-game attitude is something that many execs are anxious to start thinking about as they visit the various booths related to the future of tech. Some, like Ant Farm president Melissa Palazzo, will be prioritizing her touring time based on what she can put to use in the near future. Others, such as Rain's director of strategy Greg Hedges, will be thinking more about how to integrate various trends. (Say, marrying internet-connected devices with artificial intelligence like Mark Zuckerberg recently did with his AI home assistant, Jarvis.)

Hedges has been working with clients such as Campbell's, 1-800-Flower and P&G on creating experiences using voice assistants such as Alexa for Amazon's Echo speaker. He said he'll be thinking about how the innovations he sees at CES might pave the way for some sort of "manager" that will act as a sort of boss when it comes to unifying devices and handling conversations across an entire home.

"As we inch closer and closer to a true smart environment—whether we're at home, at work, or on the go—we'll need to address the challenge of multiple connected and voice-enabled devices," Hedges said. "At some point, we're going to have 25-plus devices in our house that when we invoke them are going to say, 'How can I help?' in robot unison."

And then of course, just like last year, everyone will be keeping an eye on the latest innovations for virtual reality. Earlier this week, Lenovo announced its own VR headset which is expected to rival HTC Vive (and be much cheaper). Intel had its own VR announcement as well, debuting a wireless VR system that it's calling Project Alloy.

"I'm excited about some new things and the way some more established CES trends are gaining scale, accessibility, and functionality," said Greg Swan, vp of pr and brand innovation at Space150 in Minneapolis.

Be sure to follow along all week as we update from on the ground with stories and videos.