This morning, Microsoft made waves with a big move: they’re pulling out of CES. Frank Shaw, Microsoft’s head of communications, made the announcement on the company blog, noting that this year’s CES (which is in a few weeks) would be the last one featuring both a Microsoft keynote and even a Microsoft booth.
Like Apple before them, Microsoft apparently decided to move on from the notion of a big conference dictating their early year news and release cycle. Or that’s how Shaw framed it, at least:
We’ll continue to participate in CES as a great place to connect with partners and customers across the PC, phone and entertainment industries, but we won’t have a keynote or booth after this year because our product news milestones generally don’t align with the show’s January timing.
A subsequent report by Barb Darrow for GigaOm suggest that this move wasn’t about Microsoft thinking about their own timing (as Shaw clearly states) as much as it’s about Microsoft being snubbed by CES and them saying “fuck you” in return.
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.”
Um, yeah, that’s a big difference.
A New York Times report by Nick Wingfield seems to make this murkier still. He reports what Shaw said but then:
The Consumer Electronics Association, the industry trade group that puts on C.E.S., said the change had been a mutual decision. In an interview, Jason Oxman, senior vice president of industry affairs at the group, said it invited companies to deliver keynote speeches at the convention, not the other way around. Mr.Oxman said the group felt it was time for a new company to deliver the opening keynote since Microsoft held the spot for the last 14 years.
The end is the key there. That’s CES on the record saying they didn’t want Microsoft to keynote any further.
Is it possible both sides came to those conclusions independently? I suppose. But let’s be realistic, that rarely happens. And if you read their statements carefully, they actually don’t suggest that at all.
The fact that NYT updated their post with a comment from CES suggests they were pissed off that it was framed as Microsoft pulling out — which looks like a big blow to the conference. As Wingfield writes:
While the company’s decision means very little to the average person, it’s a further sign of how once-mighty trade shows can lose their significance as ways to introduce new products.
The fact that Shaw doesn’t mention the CES decision not to have Microsoft keynote any further says a lot as well — by not saying anything at all. So I asked for a bit of clarification over Twitter:
@parislemon Candidly :) we have a great relationship with CEA and CES. We decided to not exhibit in 2013 for reasons explained already.— Frank X. Shaw (@fxshaw) December 22, 2011
@parislemon by me in the blog post. Timing not great for major product news.— Frank X. Shaw (@fxshaw) December 22, 2011
That’s Shaw saying his explanation (which again, mentions nothing of the CES decision to pull Microsoft’s keynote slot) is the reason.
The real key is in the details — the wording. Reading all the back and forth it can be easy to miss, so let me frame it for you:
Shaw wrote (and reiterates in the tweet) that it was Microsoft’s decision: “we have decided that this coming January will be our last keynote presentation and booth at CES.” But CES directly refutes this to NYT: “In an interview, Jason Oxman, senior vice president of industry affairs at the group, said it invited companies to deliver keynote speeches at the convention, not the other way around.”
Not the other way around. Come on, these guys are smiling in the front while they punch each other in the back. That’s why I asked Shaw for his candid thoughts. He’s usually a big fan of giving them over Twitter — especially when Google is involved. But perhaps he doesn’t want to totally destroy the relationship here.
Instead, both sides just want to make it clear in the most subtle way possible that they’re behind this decision. Or, to quote Mase (as one must in such situations): Fuck me? No. Fuck you.