Strategy Session: Digital Imaging Emerges at the International CES

Strategy Session: Digital Imaging Emerges at the International CES


Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), the U.S. trade association that represents more than 2,000 consumer electronics companies and owns and produces the continent’s largest annual trade show—the International CES. Steve Tiffen, president and CEO of The Tiffen Company, is the chairman of the Digital Imaging division of CEA.

I sat down with Shapiro and Tiffen to discuss the imaging industry’s involvement in the 2012 International CES, the opportunities that exist for manufacturers and retailers alike, and to ask them advice on how best to tackle the show this year.

Jerry Grossman: Imaging has taken on a new focus at the International CES this year. What are your goals and expectations for imaging at the show?

Steve Tiffen:
The imaging category has been critical to the consumer electronics business since the inception of the special interest group created seven years ago. When they recognized the convergence of imaging and consumer electronics almost a decade ago, CEA created a special interest group, and then later a division, specifically focused on digital imaging.

Digital imaging has been a key part of the Consumer Electronics Show for some time, with key companies such as Canon, Kodak, HP and others as active supporters of the program. PMA coming to CES is really just a natural extension of this convergence. The Consumer Electronics Association is excited and welcomes both the exhibitors and the attendees who are accustomed to going to PMA now coming into the broader world of consumer electronics and imaging.

Gary Sharpiro: We expect a greater emphasis on imaging because of the PMA partnership. We received a great response to it and have enhanced exhibit space that will fulfill our expectations. In a sense, we have two types of people: those who have always done both shows, and all of a sudden they are given a week of their life back; and then we have the traditional PMA audience that will be exposed to CES for the first time and seem excited about it.

I think they’re a little nervous about it. Many dealers will be seeing the show for the first time. Do you have any advice for them?

Yes I do. Part of what makes CES work is that it exposes people in their own category to other things and business opportunities, so not only will PMA@CES be strong and successful, but there will be a number of traditional photo companies who are participating, from traditional camera manufacturers to great accessories companies and beyond.

To start selling a new product, you have to be exposed to it first, and what CES does is expose products to the masses. In fact, one of our CES Innovation winners was the groundbreaking Lytro camera.

There’s a great app on the app store to give you tools with events and schedules, and to help you get around more efficiently. First-time visitors should plan their appointments using our website—and bring a pair of comfortable shoes, because there’s a lot of ground to cover.

ST: You know, 80% of CES companies are small companies, and 80% of our visitors are small companies. It’s a really important fact, because the view of CES from the photo side is that companies like Panasonic and Samsung and Sony dominate the show. But the fact is that a great majority of the visiting companies and exhibitors are small businesses. In fact, the Small Business Council of CEA, which the photo retailers should be active in, is probably the most active division and board in the organization.

How would a dealer become a part of that?

ST: Join CEA—and it’s important for the photo industry to understand that while PMA has traditionally been their voice, now they have another voice and other benefits that they can get from becoming a part of the CEA organization as well.

GS: Members also get a tremendous amount of free market research: trends, what consumers want, how to sell, plus we have a lot of advice for thriving as a small business. We embrace small companies, manufacturers and retailers alike.

Talk to me about the Digital Imaging division. I know that a board exists, but what are the objectives of that division?

ST: The Digital Imaging division is predominantly focused on broadening the message about the imaging category both within the industry as well as with the consumer. Truthfully, we wanted to be a bridge—to get the photo industry comfortable with getting involved with CES—and that alone has been a monumental effort, because everybody was so comfortable with PMA being “their show.” For example, last year the Best Buy photographic team did not come to the CES show, but this year they are. The Digital Imaging division has been a bridge to help people come over from the photo side, so now we have photo companies being represented and it’s a growing division and a growing board. Next we need to educate, by getting the word out about what’s going on in the imaging field today. So we’re talking about output, capture and what tools are available to consumers to help them get the most out of their own personal imaging.

It really has a dual purpose: step one, let’s bring the photo industry into the consumer electronics age and recognize that whether you like it or not, this convergence has happened and it’s real; and step two, once we’re all together fighting and rowing in the same direction, let’s help grow the business. The thing that everyone needs to understand is that the Consumer Electronics Association has one goal: to grow the consumer electronics business. What more could you want?

Are you looking for other manufacturers to become part of the board?

ST: Absolutely. The board is not filled out yet. We have major companies like Canon, Kodak, Sony, Fujifilm, HP and Microsoft, but we’re still looking for companies to join the board to round it out.

Back to CES. Long term, is the vision to have all of the imaging companies to be in one place at the show?

GS: Some trade shows try to categorize, to force companies to stay within their categories, but we’ve never done that. In our world, big, broadly diversified companies such as Sony and Panasonic have such a phenomenal presence at CES, and we don’t think it would be fair of us to dictate that they have to be in more than one place.

ST: I think it’s very limiting; to say that everyone in the photo category should be in the South Hall, or in The Venetian, is to say that we’re not going to learn about any other part of our industry. The consumer electronics business is fully integrated in the digital imaging and photography business today whether we like it or not. So why not walk the whole show; why not see all of the exhibitors and everything that’s there? It allows you to open your eyes, and your business, to new opportunities that you may not have known existed.

As big as the show is, the CEA staff is doing an outstanding job at making sure people are going to be able to move freely from space to space. They’re controlling the flow to make it easier and have improved the transportation system to make it easier to get around. You’ll be very impressed to see how they handle the huge number of people going in and out of that show.

GS: And specifically the transportation between the main convention center and The Venetian is going to be vastly improved this year. So we’re planning that both are major destinations for our attendees. We also have our keynotes at The Venetian as well as other exhibits, so PMA@CES is well situated to garner a large amount of traffic from the show.

Can the International CES ever get too big?

People used to say that to me when it was 800,000 square feet. Yes, it can get too big, and we’re very sensitive to that. The advantage of it being on Tuesday through Friday is that we avoid the weekend. Las Vegas can get pretty crowded on the weekend without us. And Las Vegas also has more hotel rooms than any city in the world, and it’s added around 10,000 per year over the last 15 years. So as long as we do our job, there’s still some growth left in us, but we are limited by physical constraints.

ST: As large as the show is, the CEA is sensitive that they want it to feel comfortable and accessible. I can tell you flat  out from our experience at Tiffen, not being the largest company by far, that CEA is very focused on every member having one vote, no matter what the size of the organization. That’s a real critical factor to understand, especially in the photo industry. Size doesn’t matter here; everyone who is a member has a say and has a voice.

So, when first-time photo dealers are on the plane, leaving CES, what do you want them to be thinking?

ST: Hopefully, they found everything they were looking for in the imaging category, and they found opportunities they hadn’t thought about and hadn’t even realized were possible, and hadn’t seen initially for their businesses but were exposed to because of the International CES.

GS: And they also saw new ideas and developed new relationships. After all, innovation is the ability to put things together—sometimes very disjunctive things—and create something new. If you don’t leave the CES with 10 new ideas or 10 “aha” moments or 10 new relationships, then we have failed. But I’ve never spoken to anyone who has said they were sorry they went to CES. It just doesn’t happen.