Report From CES: The Reality Behind the Dream

Not the CES update you want, but maybe the CES update you need.

January brings with it cold weather, year-end reconciliations, lower post-Q4 CPMs, and CES. This year I had an audacious plan: I’d go to CES and actually go to CES. You know – the actual show, not just going to Vegas during CES as most everyone in ad tech does. I’m not sure when I made my CES mistake: did I just prepare poorly or was it a mistake to even try?

Like most digital people, CES sounds like a dream event with the coolest, latest gadgets. Self-driving cars. Televisions with resolutions beyond human sight. Virtual Reality. Augmented Reality. That’s last year’s CES. Self-driving televisions and augmented reality with Virtual Reality: That’s the promise of CES. Why wouldn’t I want to walk around tech nirvana?

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Welcome to Vegas…

A red-eye flight in, coupled with rain in Vegas (rain in Vegas? Really?) and issues with my registration– by the time I hit the floor, I was wet, cranky and woefully short on time to do anything. Tech is everywhere, but not ad tech. There was actual ad tech ‘content’ at CES, but not where I was. If seeing refrigerators with cameras on the inside and 4k monitors on the outside so one doesn’t have to open the door to see what’s inside (!!) is your thing, you should have been with me.

To dispel any rumors, the news was about a blackout at CES and not me blacking out at CES. To my knowledge, that’s not really considered news.

As the week progressed, I mentioned my disastrous attempt of ‘real CES,’ and the ad tech veterans easily dismissed the notion that I was ever going to get anything out of the experience. I know that’s not completely right, as I see these writeups about CES that are relevant to ad tech.

My folly cost me a day of what most in ad tech do at CES: Meet for 15 minutes. Drink a coffee or a mixed drink. Go from the Aria to the Cosmo or vice versa. High-five people you know along the way (“No time to talk! See you later? Okay. Bye!”). Rinse and repeat until you find yourself at a party or the chandelier bar. Stay out all night. Start all over again.

It’s honestly not the most refreshing way one could imagine starting the year.

However, you can have a lot of quick, concise conversations and certain topics emerged often. John Battelle thinks Mark Zuckerberg “dropped acid.” I would have referenced it as “getting religion” or a “come to Jesus” moment, but Facebook’s upcoming changes will impact publishers. A crack in the Duopoly, or ultimately another problem for publishers? Depends on who you asked. Facebook’s about-face would’ve been the dominant discussion if GDPR wasn’t on the horizon. No matter how GDPR plays out, it certainly is the number one buzzkill for any conversation.

But for all that existential talk, I feel like everyone is upbeat for 2018. Consolidation, the aforementioned GDPR, brand safety issues and the like didn’t seem to temper the enthusiasm of the people I spoke to. New Year’s optimism or mass delusion? I’d say a bit of both.

For all of that, the thing I was excited to see was the announcement of the IAB Tech Lab’s OpenData 1.0 for public comment. I had a small hand in getting this in motion (David Smith from MediaSmith was the big driver, with Jennifer Derke as the engine), and it’s unsexy but so important: nomenclature to help people reconcile campaign reporting between all parties in digital advertising. A small step for sure, but this is the kind of step needed to make ad operations more efficient.

Who knows? Maybe if report reconciliation becomes easier, more ad ops people can make it to Vegas in January. Maybe some of them will even venture to check out CES.