TVS TO CDS: A SHOWCASE FOR AN ERA

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The show of shows is coming to an end.

The Summer Consumer Electronics Show, an event that named an industry, will open in Chicago for the last time this week.

"The show mirrored the industry," said Jack Wayman, the colorful promoter who created the event in 1967 and popularized the term "consumer electronics." "It gave a glamorous look to a very glamorous product."

But the CES midyear event-convening in May in Philadelphia starting next year-became a victim of a changing market. National chains like Circuit City Stores and Asian factories need longer lead times, pushing Christmas sell-in cycles earlier in the year. Show attendance is about 50,000, half what it was in '80s.

The winter CES, held in Las Vegas each January since 1978, gets nearly twice that number. But even that can't compare to the 174,000 people who crowded last November into Comdex/Fall, the computer industry's big event.

Mr. Wayman conceived CES as an executive with the Electronic Industries Association, and he ran the show for two decades. Semi-retired at age 72, Mr. Wayman still helps the trade association with publicity.

He created a model trade show, generating excitement for marketers, merchants and media, and fueling consumers' insatiable demand for new electronic wonders. Summer CES rode a boom market that saw U.S. consumer electronics sales explode from less than $4 billion in 1967 to more than $40 billion this year.

At the inaugural show, color TV was hot, eight-track tape players were booming and U.S. companies dominated the business.

But Panasonic Co. and Sony Corp. were among a handful of Japanese companies present at the start.

"Everybody from Japan had a booth loaded with transistor radios," Mr. Wayman recalled.

The Japanese also were snapping a lot of pictures.

"It's the way you knocked off product," Mr. Wayman said.

Today, the market is dominated by Japanese giants like Sony and Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., parent of Panasonic, and by Europeans, including France's Thomson S.A., marketer of RCA and General Electric brands, and Dutch powerhouse Philips Electronics N.V., owner of Magnavox.

Color TVs still are the top sellers, but ailing Zenith Electronics Corp. is the last major U.S.-owned TV marketer.

The show has been home to flops, like quadraphonic stereo and RCA's mechanical disc video player, and fads, like citizens band radio and light-emitting-diode (L.E.D.) digital watches.

It also generated huge successes, like the videocassette recorder and the electronic calculator.

New gizmos-Philips' Digital Compact Cassette, 3DO Co.'s Interactive Multiplayer-haven't yet taken off. And products once on a pedestal, such as color TVs, now largely are commodities, sold "like a can of beans," Mr. Wayman said. The market, he adds optimistically, is simply at a plateau.

But for summer CES, it's the end of a long and successful run.

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