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Is CES The New SXSW?

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Or is it the new Advertising Week? Or is there just a cabal of brand managers who live on jets and touch down at these events once every few weeks, making them all essentially the same? Cortney Harding was less than impressed, but from this sea of homogeneity did come announcements on hi-res music and VR.

By music industry and tech consultant Cortney Harding

As we walked into the Spotify party at CES last week, one of my consulting clients leaned over and whispered in my ear. “I have something to tell you,” he hissed, then drew back to look at me. After a pause, he leaned back in. “There are a lot of white people here.”

It was a rather pale crowd at the Spotify party, which saw rapper-of-the-moment D.R.A.M. making the best of set in front of a pack of CMOs who seemed more interested in the open bar than waiting around to hear “Broccoli.” It was equally lightly complected and expense account heavy at the Pandora party, where Snoop Dogg gamely ran through the hits on the way to collect a check and go back to making TV with Martha Stewart. I will give the hordes that turned out for CES credit for at least being international— as I ran around Vegas, schlepping from one casino to the next, I overheard people from at least three different countries sending Trump tower selfies to loved ones back home.

Much like SXSW, trying to see everything at CES is a fool’s errand if there ever was one. At a certain point, you give in and let it wash over you, all the cars that plug into your house and smart home gadgets that anticipate when you’ll need pizza and order it for you and the millions and millions of VR headsets. CES isn’t really a music event, although music was certainly present—Spotify hosted some talks and threw the aforementioned party; iHeartRadio used it to unveil their on-demand streaming service and throw an event headlined by Chainsmokers, appropriate for a town where you can still smoke indoors. Hi-res audio content seemed to be the next trend, with Napster announcing studio quality streaming support to be released this spring.

There were plenty of VR music experiences as well. You could check out Electric Daisy Carnival in VR, or play Rock Band, take a trip through a psychedelic experience with Kygo. There were also plenty of non-music experiences that hinted at what could be done, including my favorite, an interactive version of a British TV ad where you could make animals dance with hand gestures.

But overall, CES feels less about hardcore tech and more like a place where the elite come to meet and tweet. It’s fun, sure, in the same way SXSW and Advertising Week and all the other events are fun, if you like partying on someone else’s dime and experiencing FOMO. It just didn’t feel like anything different.

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