Why CES Has Become a Must-Do for Marketers and Agencies

GSTV's Sean McCaffrey on what to expect at CES 2020

Eye inside of a lens with computer keyes
CES is "a great place to rocket into the new year," according to GSTV's Sean McCaffrey. Getty Images

The schedule at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is full of sessions related to OTT and connected TV, new tech in the travel industry and even a surprise speaker in Ivanka Trump (who is expected to talk about the administration’s policies regarding technology education for workers).

We chatted with Sean McCaffrey, CEO and president of video network GSTV, about what he’s expecting at CES 2020 and how the event has changed.

This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.

What are you looking to get out of CES this year?
It’s a great place to rocket into the new year, where everybody comes back from the holidays and crash lands into this massive show. A huge percentage of people who go to the show probably don’t even hit the convention center, because there’s the whole other tribe of marketers and publishers that take over conference rooms and hotel rooms to talk about the latest innovation. A new phone might be a great consumer device, but it disrupts advertising models, it changes content distribution.

As a unique video platform, we’re there to talk to partners that know us already, like brands and agencies. We’re there to talk to partners that can help our business and add value to those brands and agencies like data partners, video platform partners and so on. Companies we already work with—publisher partners, content creators and makers—a lot of them are there. It’s a place where a high level of folks across the industry come together.

How have you watched it change?
This is my seventh year. Even in that short time, I’ve seen it change from really just a core tech show into a place that marketers, brands and agencies feel like they have to be because technology innovation can have really massive impact on advertising models and consumer connection. For us as a smaller publisher, competing in a sea of giants, it’s a place where top-to-top conversations come together to start the year.

Everyone is so overscheduled that everyone has tried to coordinate and consolidate conversations and content. People have gotten smarter about how they use their time there. People have also gotten realistic about what they expect from the show.

I think some of the overinvestment has faded. People are smart; how they spend their money, for their brand and their company, as well as the kind of conversations they schedule. One of the things I used to barely hear that I’ve heard from at least a dozen people this year: ‘If I can see you in New York, I’m not going to see you at CES.’ And I think that’s smart. People want to use their time wisely.

How does CES compare to the types of conversations you have with potential brand partners at other conferences, like Cannes?
They’re different from a calendar standpoint. CES starts the year, and the show is supposed to be built around innovation, but now it’s the place most publishers talk about what they’re doing differently in the year ahead. It’s a unique combination of marketers, brands, content creators and makers, technology companies, ad tech companies and investors.

Converse to Cannes. Cannes is a more global show and it comes from an ethos originally of creativity. It brings a different type of attendee.

As the ad-tech marina is to Cannes, so too is the private hotel suite in a Vegas hotel high rise. It’s a place where those sorts of people are both looking to make deals, but the overall ethos of the show is different. For Cannes, it’s after the upfronts and NewFronts. It’s later in the year, after a number of big media investment decisions have already been made, it’s not necessarily as much about what’s going to happen in the year. It’s also a reflection backwards on the first half and ahead to the second half.

What trends from the media industry do you see dominating the conversation this year?
The changes in data privacy, how will that impact marketing plans? And how will it impact platforms? Everyone is talking about it, everyone’s planning for it, but it’s finally becoming real as the laws go into effect. So, the confluence of ad tech, martech, brand, agencies and so on, people are really trying to understand what that will mean on a go-forward basis.

The OTT/connected TV space is a really interesting one where that’s going to dominate the discussion this year, because it’s consumer technology.

Any advice for a CES first-timer?
Wear very comfortable shoes. Eat when you see food because you might not know when you’ll be eating next; you’re going to be talking so much. You’re told to bring all sorts of SPF to Cannes. And despite it being Vegas, you need to bring a winter coat.


@SaraJerde sara.jerde@adweek.com Sara Jerde is publishing editor at Adweek, where she covers traditional and digital publishers’ business models. She also oversees political coverage ahead of the 2020 election.
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