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Today is the final day of CES 2021. First billed as a virtual conference that would replicate, to the best of its ability, the camaraderie and awe that define its annual in-person Las Vegas event, many attendees have been left divided as to whether this year’s show hit the spot or missed the mark. In reality, CES was more akin to a series of back-to-back Zoom calls—one that cost exhibitors hefty sums that aren’t too far off from the price of showcasing themselves at the real event. You may be your own judge in deciding the reputation of this year’s CES, but even the most glowing reviewer would likely agree there’s no substitute for the real thing. Fingers crossed for 2022, right?

You can catch up on anything you might’ve missed during yesterday’s sessions with our executive summary below. And, if you haven’t already, feel free to check out yesterday’s newsletter that recaps CES 2021’s first day of public sessions.

Making the most of it

Nearly a full year into the pandemic, many trends that arose during the early days of COVID-19 are still being embraced by industry-leading companies, indicating many of them may be here to stay.

The widespread adoption of working remotely has been at the forefront of many CES exhibitors’ minds, with tech companies clamoring to make the American home office as comfortable and efficient as possible. At CES 2021, Targus debuted a handful of products to disinfect work stations, Dell unveiled a new computer monitor designed for optimal videoconferencing angles, and audio hardware company Shure offered a small, user-friendly mic to enhance speech quality during Zoom calls.

Meanwhile, a range of companies from LG to Kohler are responding directly to the virus, debuting UV-C light-based disinfectant technologies, state-of-the-art air purifiers, and automatic and touchless gadgets for users to avoid contact with germy surfaces.

And in the retail industry, curbside pick-up and home delivery have transformed from nice-to-have alternatives to a critical piece of companies’ logistics puzzles. “Everything overnight became available on the back of technology,” Best Buy CEO Corie Barry said during the electronics store’s CES session. The pandemic has forced people and companies to try out these new fulfillment methods, in effect normalizing them, and Barry said she expects many of 2020’s retail trends to continue after things return to normal.

Missing the mark

When CES opted to hold its 2021 conference virtually instead of canceling it outright, its organizers promised a state-of-the-art digital experience that would strive to be just as experiential as its traditional live shows in Las Vegas. And while much has been made of CES’s “seven figure” investment in videoconferencing tech and virtual convention halls, some attendees have bemoaned that the event has fallen below expectations.

One particular downside is that hundreds of expert panels have been pre-recorded, giving little flexibility to talk about the events that are shaping tech in real time, such as bans of President Trump by social media platforms and the role of tech firms in inciting last week’s violent insurrection in Washington. Yesterday, for instance, a panel about the power of Big Tech and the roles of Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple couldn’t address the latest developments surrounding those companies and did not mention headline-making news such as Trump’s bans from social media or the crackdown on extremist apps like Parler.

Read more about the decision to utilize pre-recorded panels—and its consequences—from Ad Age’s Garett Sloane here.

The future of live events?

At this juncture, it would appear as though many decision-makers have moved beyond the “cancel everything” stage of the pandemic, instead betting on a new strategy that says rejigging events to accommodate COVID-19 protocols is preferable to axing them altogether. Exhibit A: this year’s CES.

Tuesday's all-digital CES party, co-hosted by MediaLink and iHeartMedia, could be an early blueprint for the future. “Walking” through the virtual hoopla this week provided the first glimpse of how the ad industry could regain a sense of serendipity, and could also provide a template for how Cannes—which yesterday confirmed plans to go ahead with an in-person event—could take place in June, Ad Age’s Jeanine Poggi reports. “We are going back to live events. We believe and are committed at this point to having a live Cannes in 2021. There is a pent-up demand that is so extraordinary, and yesterday proved it,” says Michael Kassan, MediaLink’s chairman and CEO. “You can see a future of hybrid events, smaller events where people can either attend in person or virtually.”

Kassan says this year’s Cannes Lions could be a distributed model, “where you see something going on in the South of France and something going on simultaneously in a different city that might require less travel for certain attendees.”

Read more about how events like MediaLink’s virtual party at CES 2021 could become a blueprint for future gatherings here.

Bridging the social-entertainment divide

The line between traditional entertainment—movies, radio, linear TV—and the content appearing on social media platforms is increasingly being blurred, leaving some industry leaders to experiment with ways to reach younger, “cord-never” consumers. TikTok may have one early solution in Addison Rae Easterling, a popular personality on the app who’s set to be one of the first TikTok creators to star in a movie: Miramax’s upcoming “He’s All That,” a gender-swapped remake of the 1999 teen comedy “She’s All That.” (TikTok is a co-producer of the film.)

In a CES panel this week, Easterling joined Nick Tran, global head of marketing at TikTok, to talk about the ongoing trend bridging the gap between traditional entertainment and social media, Ad Age’s Ilyse Liffreing reports. “So many people are used to the traditional ways to do entertainment and not necessary using social media to extend that,” said Easterling. “TikTok bridges that gap. It has brought a whole new level of respect to people who do social media.”

Along with co-producing “He’s All That,” Tran added that TikTok is looking into other verticals where it can disrupt traditional entertainment. “What we want to do over the next few years is showcase how we’re continuing to field culture and bring that to life,” he said.

Check out Easterling and Tran’s panel, “How Technology is Democratizing Entertainment,” on-demand here.

Beware the malware

In Microsoft’s CES keynote speech, company president Brad Smith hammered home the danger posed by the recent SolarWinds malware campaign, calling it “a mass, indiscriminate, global assault on the technology supply chain that all of us are responsible for protecting,” Ad Age’s Mike Juang reports.

“It is a danger the world cannot afford,” he reiterated, calling on the tech industry to come together and pressure governments to take action over the attacks. “If we don’t use our voice to call on the governments of the world to hold to a higher standard, who will.” Last month, malware was discovered in software updates from IT management company SolarWinds that affected multiple U.S. government agencies and major tech firms, with federal reports tracing the cyberattack to Russia.

Esports cannot be ignored

In the past decade, the term “esports” has evolved from describing a niche subcategory to a multimillion-dollar industry of professional gamers that is increasingly gaining legitimacy in the eyes of the public—and marketers. And with esports’ shift to the forefront comes an increased importance in understanding its demographics, opportunities and future.

For Seth Schneider, GeForce Esports product manager at Nvidia, adapting some practices from traditional sports may be a key to enhancing pro gaming’s success. “The retirement age of our star athletes is so young, it’s a shame,” he said during a CES panel—but implementing sports-medicine practices for nerve damage, posture health and other common ailments can keep esports players healthier for longer. Schneider also conceded esports leagues can do more to improve their sponsorship and advertising strategies, from custom player-activated ads to embedding marketers’ messages directly into the games via platforms like Bidstack.

To learn more about the future of professional gaming and why marketers shouldn’t pass up the chance to cash in on it, watch yesterday’s session “The Technological Revolution of Esports” on-demand here.

We’ll meet again

CES 2022 is scheduled to take place Jan. 5-8, 2022 at its old stomping ground, the Las Vegas Convention Center. We can’t speculate as to whether it’ll move ahead as planned, but with multiple COVID-19 vaccines getting the federal thumbs-up and already rolling out nationwide, there’s a glimmer of hope that an all-virtual showcase might be a thing of the past come next January.

That's it for this year’s special-edition CES Daily newsletter. Ad Age will be back in 2022 to bring you all the latest from another week of innovation and insight—and hopefully by this time next year, we can be together once again on the Las Vegas Strip.

For more industry news and insight, follow us on Twitter: @adage.

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