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Leak Week makes CES better (opinion)

Will there be any news left to announce on CES 2012 Press Day? After a week of press leaks ahead of the big show, Lindsey Turrentine concludes that this year's sieve of a tech show may work best for everyone involved.

News of the Parrot AR Drone 2.0 leaked before the company had finished setting up its CES booth. Sarah Tew/CNET

LAS VEGAS--Will there be any news left to announce on CES 2012 Press Day?

Yes, of course there will. Tomorrow's CES lineup of press conferences is as impressive as ever: CNET will be covering 22 live events by tech headliners by my count. But at least six of them have already lost some thunder. So far, tech media has leaked news from Vizio (now with ultrabooks!), Sprint (4G Galaxy Nexus), Nokia and Windows (Nokia "Ace" 900), Nikon (leaks prompted Nikon to release D4 info early), Acer (more, more, more ultrabooks), and even the toy manufacturer Parrot got scooped on its own Parrot AR Drone 2.0.

My colleagues at CNET agree: this is the most preshow news we've seen in years, both in terms of formal announcements and flat-out leaks.

CES naysayers love the brave new world of preshow leaks because it reinforces the idea that there's no good reason to actually travel to Las Vegas to cover CES along with its overwhelming crowds, convention center food, and blister-inflicting scope. "Why deal with the madness of a million-person show," they ask, "when you can blog it all off of press releases?" "Look! Microsoft is leaving: the show is dead, anyway!" people chant. "Everyone's just going to have their own one-off press events like Apple and Amazon do!"

Yet, CES just keeps getting bigger. Jason Oxman, senior vice president for Industry Affairs at the Consumer Electronics Association (which produces CES), tells me (exclusively!) that this year the show is at 1.85 million square feet of exhibit space out of an available 1.857 million--basically sold out, and about 180,000 square feet larger than last year's show.

Anecdotally, I've seen much more activity in the press and beyond. Everyone's landing earlier this year, bringing more reporters, and is generally excited. (An avalanche of "Look! I'm at CES!" tweets started for me yesterday and hasn't slowed down yet.)

So what's the deal? Why the disconnect? If it's so easy to cover CES from afar and/or meaningless to cover a show without Apple, why all the excitement?

For one, I think CES 2012 Leak Week, as I call it, benefits all involved. Here's how it plays out:

1. The show started one week later into the new year than it typically does, carving out our tech journalists a few extra days in which to puncture the security membranes of even the best-made CES PR plans.

2. The earliest leaks anchor CES coverage, giving teeth to all the generally weak preview content that in the days leading up to the show typically suffers from post-holiday, pre-trade-show press anemia. (The Internet was filthy with hands-on coverage of the Nikon D4 last week because it was the only new product out for almost an entire week.)

3. The Twitter/Facebook/Techmeme/Path/Instagram machine cranks up, and even reluctant CES-goers book last-minute tickets because they realize that these new products really will be at the show.

4. Media coverage builds to a crescendo by Press Day (tomorrow, the day before the show officially opens), leaving the actual show to give people who come here what they're due: business meetings and demonstrations, in the flesh, of products on the docket for the coming year.

5. At the end of what amounts to a two-week conference cycle (if you include Leak Week), everyone goes home with something big: the press enjoys two weeks of exciting coverage, manufacturers get more time for their announcements to linger in the public eye, and attendees know what they want to see before they tackle the show floor and have a better in-person experience for it.

Members of the press--and I am just as guilty of this--tend to think that all events ever produced on a large scale are produced just for us. And it's true that media coverage is supremely important for a massive event like CES to succeed and heavily influences the success or failure of consumer technologies.

But sometimes we forget that CES and other events like it serve many purposes. Business happens here among people who are not press. Buyers come to CES to touch and feel the products they're considering for their inventories. And I don't believe for a minute that Apple and other nonexhibitors aren't at the show. They're here--I'd put money on it--having meetings galore.

Of course there will be big, important products not announced at CES, including (but not limited to) Apple products, Windows 8 (due later this year), and gaming consoles. But a week of leaky tech news sets a great stage for a week of in-the-flesh networking with everyone who matters in the consumer technology space, whether or not those players have a booth on the show floor.