Gary Shapiro, president of the association that runs CES, explains why the organization changed its name to Consumer Technology Association.
Consumer technology has come a long way since the days of the Radio Manufacturers Association.
A descendant of that group, the Consumer Electronics Association, changed its name yet again in November to the Consumer Technology Association, reflecting consumer technology’s growth beyond electronics manufacturers. The trade group already represented the likes of Ford, Adidas and Snapchat.
CTA President Gary Shapiro paused for an interview ahead of the organization’s biggest event, the Consumer Electronics Show, or CES 2016, which kicks off with media events Tuesday. More than 150,000 people are expected to attend the Las Vegas show, where they’ll see everything from televisions to virtual-reality devices to new apps and services.
In the interview, Shapiro explained why he’s working to limit attendance, what’s new at the show this year and what’s on his agenda when he returns to headquarters in Washington, D.C.
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Q: Why the name change?
A: We did that to reflect the fact that technology is behind a lot of offerings to consumers, not just electronics. We’re out there representing (companies like) Airbnb and Uber and Google.
Q: What is the CES show for?
A: We have positioned ourselves for the last 15 years as trying to create an event at the intersection of all these technologies. That’s how you get Hollywood, and the auto industry, and Madison Avenue, all into one place.
In technology, the deals today that are successful are cross-industry deals. It’s this total shift to outside your normal comfort zone.
Q: How big is the show?
A: CES has gotten really, really big. We actually made a rather weird announcement that we are trying to restrict attendance. We had 176,000 (attendees) in 2015, and are targeting between 150,000 and 170,000 this year.
It’s a matter of getting around Las Vegas. We’re concerned about the cost of hotel rooms and plane tickets and things like that. There are only so many seats on airplanes.
Q: What’s new in 2016?
A: We have over 20 areas that we call “marketplaces,” or categories. Although someone may have a great new invention, if it’s new, sometimes people don’t believe it’s real because it’s alone. So we group new categories together.
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Areas that are new? Accessibility, or technology that helps people with disabilities. The app economy marketplace. Cyber and personal security. E-commerce. Those are categories that we didn’t have before.
Q: What’s on your agenda when the show’s over and it’s back to lobbying?
A: With rapid increases in technology, the natural inclination of government is to regulate, because of the potential for harm. Look at things like drones, Airbnb, Uber, 3D printing. In every one of these categories, there’s a huge amount of resistance.
We want to make sure our federal and state governments and, at some point, the world (are) innovation friendly.
Q: Where do you draw the line, though? What’s an “appropriate” amount of regulation?
A: We’re not a knee-jerk, “no regulation” organization. When it comes to [radio] spectrum issues, we believe in regulation. There has to be some sort of enforceable language. If spectrum was the Wild West, there would be interference everywhere. Nothing would work.
What we (want) is to figure out what the harm is, and ask industry how to address the harm, and be as specific as possible if you’re going to regulate. Be detailed.