Shapiro, 64, discussed the shift to the virtual format and plans for CES in the future. Here are edited excerpts.
Q: How have companies' priorities shifted, in terms of their plans for the show, because of COVID-19?
A: We way exceeded our expectations in terms of participation. The company response has been amazing. We really wanted to do it differently and not just have an off-the-shelf solution. That required a lot of preparation, quite a lot of change. The auto industry has obviously stepped up big time through great integration. The big focus, on the exhibit side, is really up to the companies themselves in terms of what they're showing. But we definitely expect a lot of electrification and self-driving.
Do you worry that some auto companies not participating this year might impact industry interest in the show?
Every year there are companies that go in and out of the show. That's just natural for a lot of reasons, most of them having nothing to do with CES itself. Sometimes it's a quiet period for financial reasons, or they're looking at a merger, or they don't have anything new, or it just doesn't work for them for this year. I understand and respect that.
Most of the major companies are in, and a lot of other companies as well. I feel it's a very strong category for us. There will be a lot of focus on all ranges of mobility, not just automobiles.
It's a different type of skill set to participate. You're sitting in front of a screen and that's something that requires different efforts and maybe it's something that younger people have done or people outside our industry have done. We'll have a lot of valuation analysis to do so we can plan for 2022 and how we can do it better; who has participated, what they've done. But at this point, the level of participation is very gratifying.
Is there a place — and more importantly, the demand — for all of the virtual events we've seen since COVID hit?
Certainly, I don't feel a competition. Industries were asking for us to go forward, but we made some major changes. Obviously, it's not only going digital. We invested significantly in creating a unique platform that was responsive to what our customers wanted. We also use best practices and other events to learn. We have cut down the length of virtually every session. We have high-quality production we're investing in heavily. We also are giving companies an opportunity to showcase themselves. There are spotlight sessions which are actually live product demos, part of the exhibitors showcase.
What transportation trends have changed as a result of COVID?
The impetus for self-driving, because of COVID, has become more important. Maybe some people just feel uncomfortable with an unknown person driving their car. And although some of the services like Uber and Lyft have allowed them to live maybe anywhere without a car, maybe they're thinking of buying a car now because of COVID. They may want a self-driving car. They may want their own car.
The type of car people are buying, what they're looking for, is slowly changing. Where they're living is changing. Cities may take a hit. Travel actually might get better.
What's your outlook on CES in the future?
The auto industry needs an opportunity to talk to each other and to reach the media. I think they've been exemplary in how they've used even their own events and they've had to learn how to do it, as well. You're still dealing with a two-dimensional screen, trying to convey three dimension and emotion and passion and beauty and innovation and joy. It's a challenge. There's no substitute for being human to human in an event. This episode in human history of COVID, none of us have experienced in our lifetimes anything like it before. Every CEO I've talked to has agreed that it's made us realize how human we are and we crave and we need it and we're missing a lot by not being together.