If we look back on 2020, everyone will probably agree that it was a tough year. Business practices, such as working styles, business negotiations, and customer service, have all been reimagined leading to various unprecedented ideas.
Similarly, many exhibitions have switched to digital exhibit formats to prevent the spread of infection. Digital exhibitions require a different kind of know-how than real ones, and many companies must have been stumbling through the various preparations needed.
Although hopes are rising that the Covid-19 pandemic is finally over, the future remains unclear, and Digital Expo will continue in 2021. How should the management office and exhibitors respond to these changes?
In this article, we ask Mr. Kato of “JAPAN TECH” and Mr. Yasui of “b8ta Japan,” who will hold “CES2021 JAPAN TECH@b8ta” at b8ta Tokyo – Yurakucyo (Beta Yurakucho) from January 9 (Sat.) to 17 (Sun.), 2021, about the future of exhibitions.
・The world’s largest technology trade show, CES, finally comes to Yurakucho.
・The American planning committee suddenly announced that CES will be held digitally. A collaboration was decided during the search.
・Research-stage technologies and smart-city concepts will also be on display. Technology lovers should make sure not to miss it!
・What are the unique challenges of digital exhibitions that cannot be realized without in-person?
・There are also plans for traditional crafts and fashion events in the future. Realizing a place where something new is always going on.
Co-Chairman of JAPAN TECH / President of Creative Vision Inc.
After retiring from a Japanese event company, he established Creative Vision Inc. in 2013. In 2017, he became the sole Japanese sales representative for the world’s largest technology show, CES, and managed the planning of the Japan Pavilion at CES called “the Japan Tech Project.”
Senior Business Development Manager at b8ta Japan G.K. (Beta Japan LLC)
After graduating from a state university in the United States in 2014, Midori spent four years at Deloitte Tohmatsu Consulting, where she worked on BPR projects and new product planning for clients in the technology, robotics, and AI industries.
After working for SoftBank Robotics, she joined b8ta Japan in January 2020 as one of its first staff members.
CES, the world’s largest technology trade show, is finally coming to Yurakucho!
b8ta, the venue for the CES2021 JAPAN TECH @ b8ta, is a new type of retail store from Silicon Valley. The business model is similar to that of a tenant business, where they do not purchase products themselves but set up dozens of booths in their stores and rent them out to manufacturers for a monthly fee. The difference between b8ta and a typical tenant business is the use of IoT in the store. b8ta analyzes the flow of visitors to the store, measures the number of times they stop at each booth, and installs tablets in the booths to introduce the features and specifications of the products. In addition, store staff members actively interact with patrons and listen to their voices.
Exhibitors can access these data to obtain the data necessary for marketing and product improvement.
Digital gadgets, clothing, food, mobility devices, etc., were products with advantages that are difficult to realize if customers do not actually touch and operate them. b8ta complements the “experience” that was not possible with EC.
CES2021 JAPAN TECH @ b8ta is the Japanese version of the world’s largest technology trade show, CES (Consumer Electronics Show), which in 2020 attracted about 180,000 visitors from 160 countries and more than 4,600 companies. The show is usually held in Las Vegas, but this year, in consideration of the spread of infection, all the exhibits were moved to a digital venue. This year, 51 startups from Japan are scheduled to participate, and some of them will gather at “CES2021 JAPAN TECH @ b8ta” to exhibit their products and distribute videos.
b8ta has exhibited many digital gadgets in Japan and abroad, but this will be the first time they collaborate with CES. Why did they decide to hold this event?
The American planning committee suddenly announced that CES will be held digitally. A collaboration was decided during the search.
――First, I want to ask you about how the event was organized. There are many exhibition halls in Japan; why did you decide to collaborate with b8ta?
Kato: “Originally, I was supporting Japanese companies exhibiting in the U.S. In 2017, I became an authorized agent for CES in Japan, bridging the gap between Japanese companies and the U.S. CES planning committee.
The catalyst for holding the CES2021 JAPAN TECH @ b8ta was a call from the planning committee. The event was scheduled to be held in Las Vegas as usual in 2021, but in late July 2020, we received a notice that ‘this year’s event will be digital-only.’ We were already in the process of exchanging details with exhibitors, so we were busy for the next month.”
――They notified you of that all of a sudden?
Kato: “Yes, until early July, the top management of the secretariat was saying that there was no point in holding the event unless it was held at a real venue. If we lost the project, we wouldn’t be able to secure any revenue, and we wouldn’t be able to face the companies we were already supporting. At the time, we were searching for a way to deal with our business partners.”
――How did you end up working with b8ta?
Kato: “As we interviewed our customers, many of them told us that they wanted to hold exhibitions at real venues allowing for in-person participation. In response to this need, on September 2, 2020, we announced that we would somehow hold a real exhibition.”
――So this collaboration was initiated by b8ta?
Yasui: “To respond to the various needs surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic, we were looking for a new scheme that was not just a simple ‘shop offering new experiences’. On the contrary, we wanted to take this severe environment as an opportunity and have a wide range of companies and a wide range of applications recognize that ‘if you want to exhibit in real life, b8ta is the place to be.’ That’s when I learned that CES 2021 would be held digitally.
After reading the news, we could predict that ‘the number of companies looking for in-person exhibition and distribution venues would increase’, and we wanted to meet their needs. So, in order to approach a wide range of technology companies, we contacted JAPAN TECH.”
Kato: “We are very grateful for the opportunity. We were in the middle of looking for a place to hold the event, and b8ta has a strong affinity with technology. In addition, it’s easily accessible from the city center. It was truly a ‘win-win’ situation for us.”
Research-stage technologies and smart-city concepts will also be on display. Technology lovers should make sure not to miss it!
――Please tell us about the event at this point. I heard that not only technology startups but also local governments and research institutes are exhibiting at this year’s event. Specifically, what kind of products will be exhibited?
Kato:”The products exhibited by startups are mainly in the technology field, such as OiSHi, a compact air purifier weighing about 85g; NETGEAR’s high-speed Wi-Fi gaming router; and DeepEye, a system that allows individuals to develop AI. There are also exhibits demo’ing products currently in the research stage, such as Fukuoka City’s smart-city concept and the chopstick-shaped sensors of Nara Institute of Science and Technology.”
Because CES, as is its namesake, is a technology trade show, technology concepts and technologies in the research stage have been exhibited at the show in the past. I’ve been to the show many times in Las Vegas, and each time I attend, it shows me a little further into the future. I believe that by continuing to watch CES, the future will become brighter. You start to understand the advancements made over the years. You’ll also be able to come up with new business ideas, like, ‘Well, if it were up to me, I’d try to do ______.’”
――Are there any other points that you would like people to pay attention to?
Kato: “This year’s event was supported by J-Startup, a startup development support program sponsored by the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI), and the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), the Japan External Trade Organization.”
Yasui: “I have spoken with a number of technology and gadget startup companies in Japan, but I think it is almost a miracle that the logos of ‘J-Startup’, ‘JAPAN TECH’, and ‘CES’ are lined up side by side. I think it is a truly precious opportunity for interesting domestic startups to meet in one place, transcending the boundaries of support organizations.
I’ve attended CES three times in the past; it’s a place where you can make many discoveries, including technologies that may or may not be put to practical use in the future. If you are a technology lover, I highly recommend you participate.”
What are the unique challenges of digital exhibitions that cannot be realized without in-person?
――In 2020, due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, various exhibitions were shifting to digital. Do you think this trend will continue in a “Post-Corona” era? As an authorized agent of CES in Japan, Mr. Kato encourages the participation of Japanese companies. And, as an expert on domestic and international expos, what are your thoughts on how exhibitions will change going forward?
Kato:“Personally, I believe that exhibitions in the future will shift to a hybrid real and digital format. In my work, I also check out overseas exhibitions, and when I look at the schedule for the future, more than 90% of them are of such a hybrid type.”
――Digital exhibitions can attract participants from all over the world and do not require any venue fees. Considering the advantages, digital-only seems to be the way to go, but why do so many organizers continue to use in-person venues?
Kato: “Because there are some exhibitions that cannot be held without a ‘real’ base. For example, even if a digital-only exhibition of food products is held, the flavor of the products cannot be conveyed unless the visitors actually taste them. I think there are many product categories that can only be experienced and appreciated in-person. Clothing and fragrances are other products that need to be experienced.”
――I see, you can read about the features and specifications of a product digitally, but you can’t experience the qualities of some products like touch, flavor, sound, etc., until you actually examine them in-person. A hybrid exhibition is being planned to fill the gaps left by digital technology, but this is a format that has few precedents. Many companies must have encountered a number of stumbling blocks as they prepared for 2020. What kind of challenges did you face in this process?
Kato:”From an exhibitor’s point of view, they may have a hard time differentiating their booth from other booths. With a real venue, you can make your booth stand out with ideas and decorations. If you can create a lively atmosphere, people will gather, and the media will pick it up. Digital, by contrast, does not allow for booth decorations. Many digital expos offer access rights from the top page of the website or other places with many leads as a special quota, but many companies have budget constraints, and this is not a fundamental solution.”
Yasui: “We at b8ta often visit trade shows to capture leads, but from a visitor’s perspective, we had a hard time communicating with exhibiting companies.
At a given digital exhibition, when you visit a booth, your access history is attached, and you receive emails from all the companies. Then, the companies we really wanted to contact would be buried. We could have sent individual chats, but there were some exhibitions where the system did not work well.”
――I see that challenges are emerging for both exhibitors and visitors. What kind of solutions do you have in mind for the “CES2021 JAPAN TECH @ b8ta”?
Kato:”I think one of the answers is to set up a real venue. There are products whose appeal is difficult to convey without actual, direct human contact. The digital medium has its own unique advantages, such as capturing influx data, but the hybrid model can make use of the advantages of digital and real to fill gaps.”
Yasui: “Of course, in order to prevent the spread of infection, we restrict the number of visitors and have a system in place that does not require exhibitors to be present, with staff providing information on their behalf. If a cluster is discovered, the same scheme will not be possible in the future, so we are proceeding with the utmost care.”
――Are there any other steps you are taking?
Yasui: “There are many exhibitors who are looking for media exposure at the show, so we have scheduled a press day. In addition, we have set up a special studio at the venue and will be livestreaming the conference on YouTube on January 13 and 14. We’d be happy if those who are unable to make it to the venue can watch the livestream of the conference, as we’ll be showcasing innovative approaches of domestic startups and research institutes.”
Kato: “We would love to have as many people as possible attend the conference in person, but it’s difficult to do so in reality. We would like to use digital technology to widen the audience and complement the real venue with digital technology. I think this is a realistic landing point.
There are also plans for traditional crafts and fashion events in the future. Realizing a place where something new is always going on.”
――Lastly, please tell us about your future plans.
Yasui: “The theme of this upcoming ‘CES2021 JAPAN TECH @ b8ta’ is technology, but we at b8ta would like to realize links with a broader range of industries. In fact, we are planning to link up with media outlets and have them use the exhibition as a video studio. I would like to use this hybrid digital and in-person exhibition as a successful case study and continue to show off the new b8ta as a place to ‘share’ products and services that you have never seen before.”
――When I interviewed Mr. Kitagawa, b8ta’s representative, he said, “I would like to see not only gadgets but also traditional crafts exhibited.” It would indeed be interesting to see crafts exhibited similar to the Milano Salone.
Yasui: “I think crafts and fashion would be interesting as well. We could have a fashion show at b8ta after store hours, or have influencers come and give reviews of our products. I believe that b8ta should be a place where new things are always happening.”
――Do you have any plans for the future?
Kato: “I don’t have any concrete plans, but if I were to hold the next event, I would like to invite companies that have won the CES Innovation Award. The CES awards are given annually to leading examples of innovation, and the awards receive a lot of media attention and are highly regarded worldwide.
If this event concept is successfully realized, we will be able to demonstrate the appeal of CES to Japan. It’s hard to convey how interesting the exhibition is unless you actually go there, but I think it’s worth the trip to Las Vegas. I want Japanese companies to participate in the expo, so I want to let them know what kind of expo to encourage them to overcome any hesitation. If the event is held again next year, I would like to make it happen.”
――To get a feel for CES, I would first like to invite you to visit the “CES2021 JAPAN TECH @ b8ta” event. Thank you very much for coming today!
・ “CES2021 JAPAN TECH @ b8ta” will be held at b8ta Tokyo – Yurakucyo (Beta Yurakucho) from January 9 (Sat.) to 17 (Sun.), 2021.
・The collaboration with b8ta was born out of a search for a way to respond to the request to hold an exhibition at a real venue.
・OiSHi, a small air purifier; NETGEAR’s high-speed Wi-Fi gaming router; and Fukuoka City’s smart-city concept were exhibited.
・J-Startup, a start-up development support program sponsored by METI, and JETRO also cooperated.
・We believe that future exhibitions will shift to a combination of real and digital exhibitions.
・Some exhibitions cannot be held without a real base.
・An integrated model can make up for missing components by using the advantages of digital and real formats.