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Electronic show running on low battery

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Kai Ryssdal: Millions of Americans are back home today from their Christmas holidays, maybe trying to set up an electronic gift or two, asking the perennial question, “Does it take AA batteries or AAA?” Or perhaps more appropriately for 2008, “How do I plug this guitar into my Wii?”

The consumer electronics industry is doing a little setting up itself, getting ready for the annual Consumer Electronics Show out in Las Vegas. This year though, there is a small warning on the box. It says: Consumers not included. Marketplace’s Jeremy Hobson reports.

Jeremy Hobson: The Consumer Electronics Show is one of the big — huge — trade shows of the year. Jason Oxman with the Consumer Electronics Association describes it as:

Jason Oxman: The place at which every major consumer electronics innovation you can imagine was first unveiled.

The industry includes all the TVs, DVD players, PlayStations, computers and cell phones out there. And its U.S. revenues are expected to reach $173 billion this year. But the retailers who sell electronics are hurting, so much so that CES attendance will be thousands of people lower than it was last year.

Oxman: And one thing that we’ve done this year is assist some of the smaller companies by providing them some travel assistance to help offset the high cost of airfare.

That may not be enough, says Ross Rubin who covers the industry for the NPD Group. He says while many now see their electronics as a necessity, the industry is not immune to the recession.

Ross Rubin: If consumers aren’t cutting back absolutely on buying the product, they’re often cutting back in terms of the price that they’re looking to pay or the brand that they’re looking to acquire.

That means smaller plasma screens and smaller profits for retailers. Jason Oxman does see one good side to the down economy, at least when it comes to boosting attendance at the CES.

Oxman: This year, because tourist traffic to Las Vegas has fallen off the cliff, hotels are offering very good rates.

That may be one reason many companies are moving their product displays into hotel suites and off of the pricey showroom floor.

In New York, I’m Jeremy Hobson for Marketplace.

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