Change is underway in the consumer gadget scene, thanks to new blood—and a rallying cry for support—from startups, as the organization that stumps for this industry gets a bit of a makeover.
At last week’s CES Unveiled in New York, a preview hosted for the press of things to come at the January conference, Gary Shapiro, president, announced the Consumer Electronics Association would be hence forth known as the Consumer Technology Association (CTA). The name change, he said, reflected the ongoing development of the organization and the companies it aims to represent.
Car makers, social media companies, and sharing economy companies, Shapiro said, are part of the membership and presenters at its events these days. These companies include BMW, Expedia, Google, Lyft, Netflix, Pandora, Snapchat, and Uber. “Look at our leadership,” he said. “It’s really spread out dramatically, reflecting the dynamism of this new economy based around the Internet and wearables.”
The increasing presence of new tech companies will be felt as well on the showroom floor at CTA’s main event, the annual CES conference held in Las Vegas (The event is now officially, simply called CES). Drones, 3D printing, and robots are all expected to be highlighted at CES 2016 as these technologies continue to make noise. There will always be giants such as Samsung and LG Electronics showing off new lines of televisions, but more and more room is being dedicated to feature startups.
More than 500 startups will be on display in Eureka Park at CES 2016, Shapiro said, up from about 375 last January, and 200 in 2014. “We actually have a wait list,” he said. The first Eureka Park opened about four years ago. “Since 2012, more than 800 startups have used CES to showcase their products,” Shapiro said.
The CTA’s tenacious embrace of new and sharing economy companies also put the legal issues they face center stage for the organization. To address such matters, the CTA formed what Shapiro called the Disruptive Innovation Council to provide support and advocacy to companies that shake up traditional business models. Members of the council include Boingo, Expedia, Google, GoPro, Lyft, Nest, Uber, Pandora, WebMD, and Yelp.
Uber in particular has repeatedly faced off with local and state lawmakers over its business practices, which either skirt or outright flout certain laws. Shapiro said the Disruptive Innovation Council was formed as a strategic measure to assist all such upstarts. “These companies in a sense are under attack,” he said. “They are changing things for older companies, and those older companies are asking government officials to protect them.”
Shapiro pointed to the challenges Uber faces in New York, where operations have been at times curtailed or declared illegal by lawmakers. “It was an attack by the city government in support of existing taxicabs,” he said. Legislation proposed in San Francisco aimed at Airbnb, Shapiro said, was another example of policy that could put a chokehold on a disruptive company. “We believe consumers want the sharing economy companies; they want these new options,” he said.
If the creation of such an advocacy group sounds a bit familiar, the Partnership for New York City earlier this month formed its own Partnership Innovation Council with local tech leaders to speak out about New York laws they believe may hinder new ideas. There is also some effort underway in the academic world to help attorneys better understand the issues such companies face. Given the continuing courtroom battles disruptive companies get tangled in, this may just be the first wave of new advocacy groups taking up the fight.