A global pandemic isn’t stopping MediaLink from hosting its famous networking events and a celebrity-studded party at an all-virtual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this year.
CES, which is going virtual this year due to the Coronavirus pandemic, kicks off Monday, Jan. 11 and runs through Thursday, Jan. 14 with online keynotes, panel sessions and a virtual show floor with all of the newest gadgets and innovations in consumer tech.
For the past decade, the ad industry has descended on Las Vegas at the start of every new year to attend CES and understand how emerging tech trends may reshape media, shopping and consumption habits.
MediaLink has been integral to making CES an industry tentpole. The consulting firm has partnered with the Consumer Technology Association, the trade association for the consumer tech industry, for more than 10 years to create curated programs to attract marketing and advertising executives to the event.
“Companies like Samsung, LG, Sony and Microsoft were very prevalent at CES,” said MediaLink CEO Michael Kassan. “You've got all of these companies showing up with their tech and IT folks, but they didn't have their marketers.”
Over the years, the partnership evolved into the C-Space, a curated satellite event for marketing professionals in the Aria hotel with panel discussions, trade booths and networking opportunities. The C-Space has become the hub of the industry’s CES experience on the ground.
This year, the C-Space will be recreated virtually, with keynotes and sessions featuring industry leaders, including a fireside chat between Kassan and WarnerMedia Studios CEO and chair Ann Sarnoff. The event will touch on topics at the intersection of technology, media, entertainment and advertising, Kassan said.
It’s not the same as conference suites in high-rise Vegas hotels, but MediaLink will still curate virtual meetings between Fortune 100 marketers and vendors. And the firm will lead clients on virtual tours of the CES show floor, giving CMOs a tailored look at technologies and trends of interest.
“CES is such an important date on the calendar that we didn't want to let a year go by when we weren't leading our clients on a journey around the consumer tech space,” Kassan said.
It wouldn’t be a MediaLink event without a party. This year’s virtual networking event, in partnership with iHeartMedia, takes place on a platform that lets guests move around and network as avatars. Attendees will also get exclusive entertainment, including a discussion between Dua Lipa and Ryan Seacrest and a performance by Billie Eilish.
“We’re going to try to bring as much of the live event as we can to the virtual event,” Kassan said.
This isn’t the first time this year that MediaLink adapted a large on-the-ground program to a virtual activation. The firm, owned by Cannes Lions parent company Ascential, brought its famous MediaLink Beach online during the virtual Cannes Lions festival in June with content sessions, networking opportunities and performances.
While many in the industry are rethinking business travel during the pandemic, Kassan still sees the value of keeping tentpole events on the calendar. That’s in contrast to other confabs, such as the World Economic Forum in Davos, which is relocating to Singapore in May 2021.
“I can't tell you how many people have said to me, ‘I'm not going to Singapore in May,’” Kassan said. “It's not just the event, it's when you do it. The mindset, the time of year. These are nuances that I find interesting.”
Events will look different in the future, as will the way we work. But Kassan is bullish that with the vaccine rollout underway, in-person events will come back soon, and says MediaLink is “full-on on planning for Cannes in June live.”
“By the summer we will be back to live events, maybe in a hybrid fashion,” he said. “There's pent-up demand for live interaction. Cannes is such an important place for that.”
What’s unclear is whether agencies, brands and tech companies will be comfortable sending thousands of employees to Cannes as soon as early summer from a safety perspective, especially as the vaccine distribution runs behind schedule. Agencies in particular have suffered revenue declines and layoffs during the pandemic, and are unlikely to show up in full force to a flashy event on the French Riviera after a devastating year.
Ascential is dependent on events coming back. Growth at the company, which owns event franchises including Cannes Lions, World Retail Congress and Money 20/20, was stagnant for the first half the year, as revenues from live events declined by roughly $131 million.