There are some announcements that reek of politics – and Microsoft’s decision to pull out of the Consumer Electronics Show is a textbook case.
Just before Christmas, the software giant announced through its blog that the upcoming show, which kicks off officially with chief executive Steve Ballmer’s keynote on Jan. 9, will be its last.
Microsoft cited the early January timing of the annual show as the reason for its move. After all, its product launches don’t usually align with CES, so why bother going to all the bother and expense?
On the one hand, the company is right. CES actually couldn’t happen at a worse time for most tech companies, coming right after the biggest buying season in the developed world. As California-based technology analyst Rob Enderle puts it, an early leak of new products to be unveiled at CES can "crater" a company’s holiday sales. After all, who’s going to buy a new tablet for Christmas when fancier and newer ones will be announced in only a few weeks?
On the other hand, however, CES has never aligned with Microsoft’s product release schedule, yet the company happily paid for the big opening keynote for 14 years. So what’s changed?
As numerous commentators have pointed out, it likely came down to money – most probably a dispute between Microsoft and the Consumer Electronics Association, which runs CES. As GigaOm reported, the CEA probably wanted more money for the opening keynote, which the company wouldn’t pony up: "Microsoft didn’t pull out of the keynote — they were kicked out. Big difference."
That makes sense. As public relations go, having the opening slot at one of the biggest technology shows in the world is worth its weight in gold, especially to a company that wants to be seen as relevant to everyday consumers rather than just as a business software provider. Who cares about product release schedules?
One other possibility is that the CEA wanted Microsoft to adjust its product releases so they would in fact align better with CES. The company has been criticized for being relatively light on beefy announcements.
Who will replace Microsoft?
Regardless of what happened behind the scenes, the question now turns to who will replace Microsoft in that important opening keynote.
Most observers believe there’ll be a fight over the spot, with the CEA selling it to the highest bidder. The one problem with that approach is the potential for hurt feelings – if Sony gets it, for example, might Samsung or Panasonic threaten to pull out of the show as well? While Microsoft wasn’t exactly a front-facing consumer electronics company, it was a mostly neutral choice given that its software powers devices from a host of manufacturers.
Shawn Dubravac, chief economist for the CEA, says the safer approach might be to go with a similarly neutral company – perhaps microprocessor maker Intel or Microsoft’s chief rival, Google.
"They have technology across the entire industry," he says.
Neither company returned a request for comment.
Intel may indeed be the most logical choice along that line of thinking. Its presence at CES has been large, with its booth located — not coincidentally — next to where Microsoft has exhibited.
Google, on the other hand, would be surprising given its relatively small presence over the past few years – the company doesn’t even have a booth.