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CES 2021: Considerable media coverage despite significantly fewer exhibitors

OSK analyzes media penetration on digital channels

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Cologne, February 15, 2021. Despite the exclusively virtual format of CES 2021 on account of the Covid pandemic, and a significant reduction in the number of exhibitors, this year’s show saw only a slight decrease in media coverage. These are the findings of an analysis conducted by Cologne PR agency Oliver Schrott Kommunikation (OSK), which has been supporting German manufacturers at the world’s biggest electronics show for many years.

OSK’s analysis shows that CES 2021 generated two-thirds of the number of articles in German and English online media and blogs compared with last year’s event (around 25,600 versus around 39,600). This comes despite the number of exhibitors at the “digital trade fair” in 2021 (1,958 companies) being less than half that of the face-to-face CES 2020 (around 4,500).

“Recent months have seen all trade fairs taking place online, if at all. So, we were keen to find out how virtualization impacted an event such as this, whose appeal is particularly shaped by the show effect and the draw of its location in Las Vegas,” explains Michael Kemme, board member at OSK.

Perhaps surprisingly, the results showed that CES withstood the move from The Strip to the web remarkably well. Although, just like the exhibitors, the number of visitors to the digital version in 2021 had roughly halved from 171,268 the previous year to 86,179 in 2021, the number of accredited journalists remained impressively high at 5433 (against 6400). 58 percent of media representatives tuned in from abroad.

This may have been due to the extensive digital program. With nine digital keynotes, 27 press conferences, 71 so-called spotlight sessions and 154 other presentations in the schedule, it was around the same level as 2020, thus offering a broad range of topics for reporting.

Top slot for Samsung and LG

As in previous years, the greatest media reach was achieved by the brands with products in the consumer tech and entertainment sector, which encompasses providers of entertainment electronics, smart home technologies and other entertainment offerings. It comes as no surprise that the keenest interest was reserved for products and presentations with a message related to the pandemic. Samsung, the clear number one in media coverage, generated almost 4,000 mentions in German- and English-language articles and blog posts with its all-encompassing tagline “Better Normal for All”. At a digital press conference, the South Korean firm showed how its products contribute to a better life and sense of togetherness at home, underscored by calming music and framed by sequences in which people of all ages expressed their wishes.

Number two in the coverage rankings, LG, also opted for the imagery of domestic life, particularly poignant during the pandemic, for the presentation of a new generation of TVs and smartphones. It asked the audience what “at home” actually means to them during these Covid times.

With their emotional performances, tuned perfectly to the current “stay at home” trend, the two South Korean tech giants thus positioned themselves at the very top in terms of media coverage, and characterized the image of the digital CES, likewise impacted by the pandemic.

The five most-viewed YouTube videos from CES also came from Samsung and LG. It was Samsung’s “Better Normal for All” video that captured the biggest audience with 33.6 million views in the first seven days.

Michael Kemme sums up the PR shows by the two brands thus: “There were no weaknesses at all in the way Samsung and LG presented themselves, and they generated media buzz with the intimacy, emotion and topicality of their messaging,” adding: “The emotional approach taken by both performances is partly a matter of resources, but also of courage. And in both cases, it had the desired effect on journalists in spite of the digital distance.”

“Companies do well to anchor emotionality firmly in their technology communication, too,” he concludes.

Two German car brands in the mobility top three

Among the automotive and mobility brands, which have given the CES a mighty boost in recent years, it was GM that scored first place in the media rankings (1,559 mentions). GM boss Mary Barra used one of the nine keynotes, the top billing of the CES presentation formats, for the group’s first major CES appearance, with a flurry of announcements and futuristic vehicle studies, including a flying Cadillac. The presentation of a new brand for electric logistics also drew the finance and business media to the 60-minute opening speech.

Second and third place went to two German manufacturers, Mercedes-Benz (693 mentions) with a virtual press conference for the MBUX Hyperscreen, the intelligent brain of the future EQS electric flagship, and BMW (287 mentions) with an overview of its new iDrive display and control system.

Both German premium brands have used the CES multiple times in the past for major premieres and, in 2021, ahead of all the other automakers, achieved the successful transfer of their presentation formats from the physical trade fair environment to the digital space.

Two days of Twitter frenzy

The focus on intelligent systems and technologies, which dominated online reporting during CES 2021, is also confirmed by the hitlist of hashtags most used on Twitter in the context of the digital trade fair: “#AI”, “#MachineLearning”, “#IoT” and “#5G”. The number of tweets (English and German) in advance of the CES from January 1-10 increased steadily, rising sharply on the first press day (Monday January 11), peaking on the second press day (1.12) and then falling as the CES progressed (1.13/1.14), continuing to drop through the following weekend. The curve shows that the biggest hype of the digital CES was largely concentrated into two days.

It is interesting to note that Samsung also featured twice in the top five in terms of Twitter engagement, with its core brand in fourth place and Samsung Mobile in second. First place went to Lenovo, with hardware manufacturer Asus and its gaming brand Rog Global occupying third and fifth place respectively.

Lots of media coverage, but little spotlight for the CES brand

Among the big losers of the first digital CES was the CES brand itself. Qualitative analysis of the coverage in online media indicates that the name “CES” slipped into the background compared to last year, with coverage concentrating more on the products themselves. The reason for that is straightforward – while an on-location report from Las Vegas makes a mention of the location and event more or less obligatory because it underscores the “I was there” character of the report, the “CES” originator loses significance on an online platform. It’s an experience already suffered by the organizers of other digital trade fairs.

“The CES needs the glitter and glamour of Las Vegas to truly bask in the spotlight. Our media analysis makes this crystal clear,” says Michael Kemme. “The city’s emotionality energizes perception and awareness of the tech show in the international media, while emotional performances reinforce the media impact of the products and systems presented. It’s this interplay between technology and emotion that makes the CES recipe so successful.”

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