We decided two years ago to publish a wrap-up issue for CES rather than produce a third daily. It was our thought that it’s always good to take a deep breath and reflect on the show, as opposed to trying to get everyone’s attention as they’re scurrying from South Hall to Central Hall along with 100,000 other acolytes.
As the editor in chief of this magazine, I always try to view CES from the imaging perspective. What does CES tell us about the future of our industry? What are the product trends, and where is the business going?
It’s clear to me that “traditional” imaging is taking on less and less of an active role at CES. The continued absence of some of the leading imaging companies, including Fujifilm, Olympus, Sigma and Tamron, as well as traditional photo specialty dealers, suggests that the role of conventional photography in the consumer electronics arena may be dwindling.
That being said, some of the more mainstream imaging giants, such as Nikon, Canon, Sony and Panasonic, have firmly planted their corporate flags in the Central Hall of CES. And their loyalty was certainly rewarded with packed booths and strong recognition from the crowds.
Canon chose to focus on partnering with new “visionary” companies and give their camera products a smaller role. But Nikon was out in full force. There were Nikon Ambassador lectures, their now famed Project HeliX display and imaging products galore. They included everything from KeyMission action cameras to Nikkor glass.
Panasonic used CES to introduce their new GH5, gathering numerous awards and accolades. And Sony promoted their professional and mirrorless cameras, continuing their formidable rise in the industry.
CES is a bastion of new opportunities and fresh thinking. Looking in the nooks and crannies suggests that imaging is certainly not dead. On the contrary, it is alive and well in alternate forms.
The Virtual Reality Perspective
VR (virtual reality) was on the tips of most tongues. Furthermore, 360º-capable video cameras were certainly the darlings of the show. I’ll leave the product reviews to other pages in this magazine. The essence is that new customers are about to be invited into the imaging fold, and it will be up to retailers to spend the time and effort to acquaint themselves with the newest technologies.
360º VR cameras like the Ricoh Theta, Nikon KeyMission 360, 360fly, Kodak PixPro Orbit360 4K and Humaneyes Vuze (which offers 3D viewing) will certainly lead the market into the brave, new world of VR. But they’re not especially easy to navigate from camera to content, and consumers will need demonstrations and explanations as to how much fun these cameras can be.
I believe it’s up to retailers to invest in this new product area and begin to own it—with promotions, classes and display areas that will invite new kinds of customers into your stores. You can’t expect these products to fly off the shelves, but getting in on the ground floor might prove beneficial as these cameras become more mainstream.
An Important Buzz Word: Drones
In terms of products that will definitely fly off the shelves, consider the emergence of drones! I, for one, became enlightened at CES 2017 with the potential of drones. Before this year, I considered drones at best to be flying machines, and at worst accidents waiting to happen.
But my meeting with Mike Kahn, the new CEO of Yuneec Americas, changed all that. He described his drones not in terms of their ability to fly but rather as cameras with incredibly long tripods—or the world’s longest selfie sticks. It’s hard not to notice that the coolest part of a drone is not the tiny propellers on top but the cameras hanging from the bottom. Drones truly offer new kinds of imagery. And it’s not that difficult to bring aerial photography to the masses.
From a selling standpoint, you can now ride a bicycle and have your drone’s camera follow you from point to point. A child’s birthday party can be celebrated from a few hundred feet in the air. And gorgeous landscapes can be appreciated on nature hikes like never before.
Drones are photography; they have to be appreciated not for their flying abilities but for their imaging capabilities. When this happens, the conversation certainly changes, and the potential becomes clearer. But it’s up to us to change the conversation.
Change the Retailing Perspective
Here’s the challenge: in order to create sales we have to ignore traditional views on what imaging is; we have to change our perspectives just as these tools are changing the perspectives around us. 360º VR cameras and drones (some used in tandem, of course) will not sell themselves. They will have to be sold, and in order to do that, it’s going to take commitment and perseverance.
First and foremost, your sales staff has to be trained on what the key messages are and how to use these new technologies. Second, educational classes on 360º VR and aerial drone photography need to be developed. Right now, most sales are taking place online. However, the photo specialty dealer has the unique ability to explain and demonstrate the wonders of these products.
Finally, advertising and promotion will help you own the category as the next wave of interested consumers becomes aware of these devices. Sometimes it’s so easy to assume everyone is paying attention. But these products are still in the early adopter phase, which leaves all sorts of opportunities in the near future.
CES from the Imaging Perspective
My overall impression of CES from an imaging perspective? The show has traveled from the blatant to the not so obvious. Those companies that chose to sit it out might be missing out on opportunities that naturally come with the sheer number of conversations that are missed. Cost is clearly an issue. But so is the lost opportunity to brand your company among the leaders in the CE world.
Imaging is not dead, far from it. It’s taken on a new life, with broader opportunities represented by new kinds of companies—from traditional stalwarts evolving to start-ups finding their place in the ecosystem. It will be up to retailers to make sense out of all of it for consumers, and to continue to redefine our industry.