CES2021 All-Digital Experience was an Opportunity for Visual Storytelling
CES2021 was all-digital this year. In Las Vegas, where I live, life was as usual that week. However, a lot of locals that I’ve spoken to said that they'd missed the noise and excitement that this event usually brings to the city each year. A lot of the same sentiment was expressed during the event's online sessions as well.
I was in charge of logistics and development of visual assets for Phison’s digital exhibition and had an opportunity to participate as an attendee as well.
I wanted to give my personal quick overview of the digital experience firsthand.
First, I loved the fact that in between the sessions, there was an anchor studio. CES event hosts kept attendees engaged and definitely glued to the screen throughout the day. Anchor desk was a great idea to connect the digital experience as a transition between sessions. Hosts provided educational content about event history, conducted short interviews with industry experts, and just grounded the event as if it was a live TV show.
Engadget, CNET, LG, to name a few, were doing live streams on Youtube with show hosts of their own. Youtube was definitely buzzing during event days.
For apparent reasons, almost every single keynote presentation and session tied everything back to COVID-19 and the acceleration of the digital revolution that it brought. Some session presenters also dove deeper into broader social unrest topics in the US, some touched on it less.
Cybersecurity, privacy, AI, digital transformation, and immersive experiences were some of the bigger topics at #CES2021.
Present to impress
Overall, the digital platform provided a huge opportunity for keynote speakers on the big stage to incorporate impressive visuals to support the message and story. Below, I’ll outline my favorites.
I always consume content paying attention to the visual expression of it first and analyze how visuals tie with the story told.
Keynotes by Verizon, AMD, GM and Microsoft were the ones that stood out for me the most. Samsung was my favorite standard session that I watched.
The company focused on 5G and everything it can enable from immersive virtual and augmented reality experiences to how we work and learn today - an expedited shift that was forced upon us by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The future of productivity is now the current reality of work. The future of learning is now the current reality of school. The future of mobile payment, is now the current reality of banking. And the future of streaming is now the current reality of entertainment.
Hans Vestberg, Chairman and CEO, Verizon.
I felt the presentation had very futuristic visuals and made the story feel big and exciting. It started with a well scripted and visually appealing opening video and finished with the concert by The Black Pumas.
Lisa Su's, CEO of AMD, story was all about high-performance computing. Her presentation started with a nicely produced inspirational video that left you wanting to hear more about them. Lisa really opened up, shined, and felt more at ease in her conversations with customers/partners. Those came across as very warm, candid and showed her passion for the work AMD does. We had a chance to hear From Lucas films and the Formula One race team as well as Lenovo, Microsoft, and more of AMD's customers and partners. These customer case studies made AMD’s presentation very dynamic and engaging.
General Motors (GM)
Marry Barra, Chairman and CEO of GM, focused on showcasing how GM is going to achieve its vision of zero-emission. And that is through building electric cars of the future. The presentation had different pre-recorded segments that had very futuristic looking visualizations. Each spokesperson presented cool concepts spanning from self-driving automobiles to mini planes – all to support a personalized travel experience and make your life easier. GM’s presentation was also the most diverse in terms of genders and races – which also supports their announced intention to become the most inclusive company in the world. I have to say that for me GM really came across as a very focused company who internalized their vision and articulated it to the audience very well.
Their presentation felt the most realistic in its look and feel. Mind you, the full digital backbone of CES was provided in partnership with Microsoft. I personally was expecting a bit more than what they created. Nonetheless, there were some great nuggets to enjoy through Brad Smith’s, President of Microsoft, presentation. My favorite moment was when he opened the doors to the forbidden world to many - their data centers. The goal was to help the viewers visualize how much storage is needed to support the growth of data in our digital lives.
There was also quite a bit of political tone in this keynote and a gentle call to action to the big-tech and governments to work together, especially when it comes to cybersecurity.
Microsoft’s president also self-reflected on technology and AI advancements that risk being used not only for good but for evil too. And he shared examples about what we, as humans, have valid concerns about when it comes to our privacy.
Here too we’re all called on as an industry and as governments, and, indeed, as a planet to ensure that humanity retains control of the computers that we create.
Brad Smith, Microsoft President
This was my favorite pre-recorded session. It didn’t make me think too much. Didn’t make me stress about the world and the future in it. I just watched and enjoyed the journey that their story took me on. I felt I was watching a mini-movie of their products and how they can fit into one's life. I think their story and visual presentation was a true embodiment of what CES is all about – showcasing what’s new and inspiring with what can be the future of technology.
I felt invigorated by visuals, high production value, and effortless execution by Sebastian Seung, President and Head of Samsung Research.
Great choice of internal on-camera talent, great story flow, amazing set, timely music choices to help change the pace, sound effects, camera angles. I was sipping my coffee in the morning while taking in the visual experience.
The show overall felt a bit clunky to follow: some sessions were pre-recorded and could be watched on the main CES event page, some were live and required connecting to Microsoft Teams platform. I am curious to see the data from CES about engagement levels and which sessions were attended the most, which ones lacked engagement.
Because I enjoy high-value visuals, live sessions didn’t hit the mark for me. They felt like standard Zoom or Webex calls at work and just didn’t feel that engaging or inspiring to stick around for.
From the exhibitor's perspective as a Phison representative, I felt that the way the exhibitors were displayed made it nearly impossible to find what you’re looking for unless you knew the company name and typed it in search to find its “booth”. There were 164 pages to scroll through if you wanted to visit each exhibitor’s display.
All of the digital exhibitions had pretty much the same template to present their information in the "booth". So there’s no big visual excitement here. I did notice that keynoters had a bit more digital real estate to work with and their displays were a tiny bit bigger. However, overall, it was still pretty basic.
My personal preference
I definitely prefer live events over digital where I can walk around the venue and stop at each physical booth that I find interesting. There was no visual draw to the digital exhibitor's displays. Live human interaction is the biggest thing, I think, everyone misses during these events. Digital networking is just not the same.
But..I thoroughly enjoyed the exciting virtual imagery that some companies created for their presentations on the massive stage. It definitely made the experience visually exciting. A more challenging task to achieve on a physical stage.
So what’s next?
I look forward to the immersive VR/AR #CES2022 experience + physical venue.
Did you attend CES2021? Share your opinion about it in the comments below.