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Welcome to Microsoft Pri0: That's Microspeak for top priority, and that's the news and observations you'll find here from Seattle Times reporter Sharon Chan.

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January 4, 2009 9:15 PM

CES preview: The economy's impact

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Here's an early look at a story running in Monday's paper on the outlook for the International Consumer Electronics Show against the backdrop of the worst consumer-spending environment in years. I'll be in Las Vegas covering CES beginning Tuesday. Check back here for updates throughout the week.

The world's largest consumer technology trade show revs to life in Las Vegas this week in the midst of a deep recession with consumer confidence at an all-time low.

But there may be few signs of the economic woes inside the cavernous exhibit halls and hotel ballrooms at this year's International Consumer Electronics Show.

"We are down a little bit in terms of exhibit space, but it will be our third largest show in our history," said Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association, the industry group that holds the event.

More than 2,700 exhibitors are registered, including 36 from Washington -- around the same number the state has sent for the last three years.

Exhibitors reserved about 1.7 million square feet of exhibit space in January 2008, before the worst of the economic downturn hit, so their presence at the show is something of a trailing indicator. Shapiro said about 50 companies have pared back their space at the show, and one or two have pulled out. entirely.

More than 130,000 people are expected and free early registrations, beginning in August, were up. Shapiro called it "a head scratcher," but noted that was before the worst of the economic news came down. And even in good economic times, preregistration doesn't correlate well with final attendance, he said.

"I'd be shocked if it wasn't down some, just given the economy, given corporate cost cutting," Shapiro said.

The audience at CES includes retailers, buyers, financial analysts, media, content creators, telecom and cable providers and more. People from more than 140 countries have registered.

One silver lining: Attending CES may be cheaper this year. The tourism industry in Las Vegas has taken a substantial hit and hotels have dramatically cut prices, which had reached "a point of obscenity and extortion," Shapiro said.

CES will not be oblivious to the recession. Several sessions are geared toward helping businesses cope with a down economy.

Shapiro is confident that his show, in its 41st year, remains a must-attend for the consumer electronics industry and many others that touch it.

"Our vision of the show is a convergence event where you have software and content and technology and broadcast and cable and satellite ... all the very top players," he said.

But others question the continued relevance of such large shows with their attendant throngs and logistical headaches.

"I kind of wonder if the big trade show is on its way out and we're just going to see smaller, sort of focused meetings for specific audiences like developers and buyers and resellers and that kind of thing," said Matt Rosoff, an analyst with Kirkland-based Directions on Microsoft, who is not attending CES for the first time in five years.

Another big show happening this week, the Macworld Conference and Expo in San Francisco, took a major hit when Apple announced last month that CEO Steve Jobs would not be making his regular keynote presentation on Tuesday. Philip Schiller, Apple's top product marketing exec, is filling in.

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