CES 2022: GfK drops out alongside Microsoft, Google, Panasonic, Intel over COVID concerns

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More and more exhibitors are backing out of CES in Las Vegas amid rising cases of the contagious omicron variant of COVID-19.

Sarah Tew/CNET

This story is part of CES, where CNET covers the latest news on the most incredible tech coming soon.

CES 2022 is becoming increasingly virtual as more and more exhibitors cancel plans to attend the Las Vegas consumer tech trade show in person next week amid concerns about spikes in COVID-19 infection rates over the holiday season. 

On Thursday, research firm GfK North America announced it was transitioning its automotive tech presentation into a virtual event. “Acting on growing concerns over employee health, GfK will not present in person at CES 2022 in Las Vegas,” the company said in a press release.

In the last 48 hours, Panasonic, IBM, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, AMD and OnePlus either canceled their CES appearances or announced plans to go digital-only. 

They join a lengthy list that includes T-Mobile, Microsoft, Google, Meta and Intel, following a sharp rise in cases due to the highly contagious omicron variant. The show remains set to kick off in person on Jan. 5 in Las Vegas regardless, though it will also be available virtually.

The statement from Mercedes reflected the views of many other companies.

“As the health and safety of our customers, partners, employees and guests are our highest priority. In view of the current situation in connection with the COVID-19 virus, we’ve therefore decided to cancel Mercedes-Benz AG’s participation in CES 2022, after intensive consultations,” a spokesperson for the carmaker shared via email on Dec. 29. “Due to the large group of participants and the different country-specific regulations, a solid, safe and harmless planning for all participants is unfortunately not be feasible in the current situation. We deeply regret this decision but consider it necessary.” 

Despite the lengthening list of departing exhibitors, the Consumer Technology Association, which runs CES, said on Dec. 23 that additional exhibitors have signed up for physical space on the show floor. “While we recently received 42 exhibitor cancellations (less than 7% of our exhibit floor),” the CTA said, “since [Dec. 17] we’ve added 60 new exhibitors for our in-person event.”

Though higher-profile companies are announcing withdrawals, the CTA emphasized that the show floor also plays host to small and medium-sized firms. CTA has left its Dec. 23 tweet, confirming its commitment to in-person plans, pinned to the top of its Twitter page.

“CES will and must go on,” CTA president Gary Shapiro wrote in a Dec. 24 LinkedIn post. “It will have many more small companies than large ones. It may have big gaps on the show floor. Certainly, it will be different from previous years. It may be messy. But innovation is messy. It is risky and uncomfortable.”

CTA said it believes the lower attendance, coupled with vaccination and mask requirements, social distancing measures and the availability of COVID tests for attendees will make for a safer convention. 

The rapid spread of the omicron variant and rise in COVID-19 cases are making many people uneasy. On Dec. 28, the US surpassed 431,000 new daily cases — far higher than last winter’s pandemic peak on Jan. 8, 2021, when the US crossed 294,000 new daily cases, according to the CDC.

The wave of departures seemed to start on Dec. 21 when T-Mobile said that CEO Mike Sievert was no longer scheduled to deliver a keynote presentation either in person or virtually and that the company planned to “significantly limit” its physical presence at the show. 

Here is the growing list of companies that have changed their minds about attending CES, starting with the most recent announcements:

  • Mercedes-Benz: The automaker announced on Dec. 29 that it is canceling its physical presence.
  • Magna: “Magna’s leadership has decided to withdraw from CES 2022 and cancel the press conference on January 5,” said a spokesperson for the auto parts maker via email. The company also tweeted its decision on Dec. 29.
  • AMD: “After careful deliberation, AMD has decided to cancel our in-person presence at CES 2022 in Las Vegas and will instead transition to a virtual experience. While the AMD 2022 Product Premiere was always planned as a digital-only livestream, our in-person engagements will now transition to virtual in the best interest of the health and safety of our employees, partners and communities,” AMD said in a statement on Dec. 28. The company still plans to hold its scheduled announcements on Jan. 4 as part of its digital-only plans.
  • OnePlus: The phone maker previously planned only an unofficial presence in Las Vegas. But CNET confirmed on Dec. 28 that company is scrapping its in-person plans, regardless. The news was reported earlier by Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman. OnePlus was rumored to be debuting the OnePlus 10 Pro phone at the show, and CEO Pete Lau teased last week on the Weibo social network that the phone’s reveal will be coming in January.
  • Microsoft: “The health and well-being of our employees is our ultimate priority. After reviewing the latest data on the rapidly evolving COVID environment, Microsoft has decided not to participate in-person at CES 2022,” the company said in a statement emailed late on Dec. 24. Microsoft said it will join the show virtually.
  • Google and Waymo: “We’ve been closely monitoring the development of the omicron variant, and have decided that this is the best choice for the health and safety of our teams,” a Google spokesperson said. Alphabet-owned Waymo, which focuses on self-driving cars, made a similar statement on Dec. 23.
  • GM: The company will not send employees or executives to the show, Reuters reported on Dec. 23. CEO Mary Barra will deliver her keynote speech online.
  • Intel: The chipmaker said that it will scale down its presence. “After consulting with health officials and in the spirit of Intel’s safety policy, our plans for CES will move to a digital-first, live experience, with minimal on-site staff,” Intel said on Dec. 23.
  • Lenovo: “After closely monitoring the current surrounding COVID, it is in the best interest of the health and safety of our employees, customers, partners, and our communities to suspend all on-site activity in Las Vegas,” the company announced via Twitter on Dec. 23.
  • TikTok: “In light of the increase in positive COVID-19 cases across the country, TikTok has decided to host a virtual TikTok CES experience for our brands and partners,” the company said Dec. 22.
  • AT&T: “The health and safety of our employees and customers is a top priority, so we have decided to forgo in-person participation at CES 2022,” a spokesperson said Dec. 22.
  • Meta: “Out of an abundance of caution and care for our employees, we won’t be attending CES in-person due to the evolving public health concerns related to COVID-19,” the company said Dec. 21.
  • Twitter: “The safety and health of our people and our partners are our No. 1 priority. With that in mind, due to the spike in COVID cases across the country in the past week, we’ve decided to cancel our in-person presence at CES next month,” the company said Dec. 21.
  • Amazon and Ring: “Due to the quickly shifting situation and uncertainty around the omicron variant, we will no longer have an on-site presence at CES,” Amazon said Dec. 21. A spokesperson for Ring, Amazon’s home security subsidiary, issued an identical statement.
  • Pinterest: The company announced its change of plans on Dec. 21.
  • Nvidia: The company has been “cautious from the start” and is set to deliver a virtual address on Jan. 4 at 8 a.m. PT, a spokesperson said on Dec. 21.
  • T-Mobile: The “vast majority” of its team won’t head to Vegas, though the company will remain a sponsor. “We are prioritizing the safety of our team and other attendees with this decision,” the carrier said in a statement on Dec 21. “T-Mobile’s entire team looks forward to an in-person CES 2023, which we hope includes an onstage keynote in front of a live audience.”

The decisions follow the US reaching the grim milestone of 800,000 COVID-19 deaths earlier this month, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center

Several companies will still host press conferences the day before the show starts, including some that no longer plan to have a physical presence at the tech show. CNET will livestream these on our main YouTube page and on our CNET Highlights YouTube page as part of our CES 2022 coverage. The current schedule for press day follows.

CES 2022 press day, Jan. 4 (all times are Pacific)

7 a.m.: AMD and TCL

8 a.m. LG Electronics and Nvidia

9 a.m.: Hisense

10 a.m.: Intel

11 a.m.: Qualcomm

12 p.m.: John Deere

1 p.m.: Canon

2 p.m.: Ottonomy

3 p.m.: Hyundai

5 p.m.: Sony

6:30 p.m.: Samsung

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