The decision to end Microsoft CES keynotes after next month was painted by both parties as an amicable split. Inside sources say it was anything but and that the Consumer Electronics Association booted the software giant in a bid to shake up the show.


So, just who nixed future Microsoft keynotes at the big Consumer Electronics Show? It’s a sticky question.

Microsoft said Wednesday that Steve Ballmer’s keynote at the  Consumer Electronics Show next month will be the company’s last center stage event at the show, and that it will focus more on company-owned venues going forward.

Ballmer, who is Microsoft’s CEO, has keynoted the show for the last three years, taking over from Bill Gates who did the honors several years before that. The CES stage gave Microsoft the opportunity to show that it could do more than business productivity software, that it could be a player in the cool world of consumer electronics. That’s a contention that many at CES quibbled with over the years. Some say the company has made a habit of splashy CES announcements that don’t add up to much. 

 This keynote change of plan was initially covered as a Microsoft-initiated decision.

Statements from the Consumer Electronics Association subsequently recast the move as a mutual decision made amicably, as covered by The New York Times here.

But there’s more to it than that. Folks inside Microsoft said that it was the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), the organization in charge of CES, that put the kibosh on future Microsoft keynotes and that Microsoft then pulled plans for its huge CES booth in response.

Said one company insider: “Microsoft didn’t pull out of the keynote — they were kicked out. Big difference.”

A CEA executive would not comment.

Frank Shaw, the Microsoft corporate VP who posted the Microsoft blog, referred all questions back to his post and reiterated that the timing of the show, coming as it does right after the big holiday buying season, made it problematic.

Still, given Microsoft’s desire to be seen as a power in consumer electronics, building on its Kinect success and its Windows 8 OS push, it would make sense for it to continue as a front-and-center presence at CES.

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  1. I don’t know what Microsoft is thinking, unless they’re planning to do their own events. They also walked away from E3 and came back, so who know?

    POLL: Is it smart for Microsoft to make 2012 its last appearance at CES?
    Vote: http://www.wepolls.com/p/6762270

  2. I dunno about all of these rumours, but I will say that CES has always presented a problem from an internal timing perspective. Microsoft is basically a graveyard during the last two weeks of December as people take time off for their families, and its not until the second week of Jan that engineering teams are back to running at speed. That’s always made it very hard to plan to do something splashy at CES, and teams have always hated being asked by Bill or Steve to have something ready for CES. Its just a poor time.

    1. Bobby

      Just wondering why it has become a problem this year? Microsoft used to be pretty enthusiastic about CES till last year. I think there is something really awkward going on here. To be clear, I am fairly ambivalent about CES and its value in the tech ecosystem.

  3. This just highlights Microsoft’s increasing irrelevance. They were never a force in consumer electronics and it has been a farce to have them headline an event where their technology offerings were never dominating.

  4. Could it be that the MS PR dept. has finally realised that Ballmer is a liability when let out in public?

    1. I’d say it wasn’t MS PR dept that realized this but that CES mgmt simply didn’t want Ballmer to speak again. Can’t think of a good reason why they would. So excellent to see them enforcing this. Speaks loudly of what Microsoft has become under Ballmer to see the knee-jerk reaction of pulling the booth as well just because Ballmer’s feeling have been hurt.

    2. Good one.

  5. I watched most of the Bill Gates CES keynotes and did so with the expectation that Microsoft was still the king of the tech CES empires. Not so anymore. Actually, it will be a breath of fresh air to have the opening keynote come from one of the newer and more influential CE tech companies.

  6. I used to go to every CES show but lately it has come to broad, making it difficult to navigate. It seems out of focus from my perspective.

    We need more specialized trade shows and a different speaker than ballmer!

  7. The truth is CES is a big show mostly about Android. Nearly every company in the world is working on Android.

    It makes no sense for Microsoft to continue to have the opening keynote. While last year’s Windows 8 on ARM keynote was an awesome experience since I run http://ARMdevices.net I think the opening show’ll be better with Google hosting it.

    CEA will shop it around to Apple, Samsung, few others, just to see if they can increase the price somehow through bidding, but likely it’ll be Google getting it for cheap.

    1. Such a pity then that nearly every company in the world is working on a stolen platform.

  8. The anti-Microsoft rumor-mill is in full swing.

    Said one company insider: “Microsoft didn’t pull out of the keynote — they were kicked out. Big difference.”

    The best rumours are so often attributed to an “anonymous” source. Impossible to verify, but the blog still gets plenty of extra hits.

    Even if this quote were genuine, which is highly questionable, it sounds a lot like sour grapes.

    1. Not an anti-microsoft source at all. And i am not anti-microsoft. Sometimes anonymous sources are the only way to go as most reporters will tell you. You do the best you can to confirm and then either trust your sources or don’t. Thanks for your comment.

      1. I have found MS events like PDC, MIX, WinHEC and recently BUILD conference more useful than CES for MS followers. Even E3 is lot exciting than CES for Softies… So calling this as kicked out sounds meh…

    2. I Agree with Tim here. For the truth about what happened head to The Verge. I’m sick and tired of reporters and so-called tech columnist hitting at Microsoft. Enough.

  9. Unless you are 100% certain of your facts, I would not go round saying Microsoft were kicked out or you might find yourself on the end of a HUGE defamation suit. Think about it.

    1. Couldn’t agree more… Sorry GigaOm has such a bias against Microsoft.

      1. +infinity.

        This article is click bait to get more clicks and ad views than anything else.

  10. Stop the speculation. GigaOm is an apple biased site, it’s clear. Every story they publish about Microsoft has a negative tone to it. Head to The Verge for the truth about CES. Microsoft wa never kicked out.

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