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Mystery: Who killed the Microsoft CES keynote?

So, just who nixed future Microsoft (s MSFT) 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.

24 Responses to “Mystery: Who killed the Microsoft CES keynote?”

  1. Perhaps having the jerk CEO of a company that is engaged in abusing the patent system with bogus patents to sue many of the potential listeners of his “keynote” didn’t seem like such a great idea.

  2. Tieoirlmk

    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.

  3. Philip Gould

    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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  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. Pete Senoff

    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.

    • Bob Johnson

      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.

  8. Neema Agha

    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.

  9. bobby@bob.com

    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.

    • 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.