CES used to butt heads with hotels like the MGM Grand, the town's largest, when the convention would hold 500 rooms. But no more. In fact, this super-gathering has become the city's best friend by planning the meet for a unique dry period - the first Thursday-Sunday after New Year's.

Because of the weekday-into-weekend schedule, CES enjoys a steadier flow of visitors as well. And then there's the weekday dismantling of the show at straight pay, which saves exhibitors money. It's such a good deal that CES has locked into its Vegas dates for the next 20 years.

Of course, none of this happens overnight or cheaply. Renting the Las Vegas Convention Center costs CES upwards of $1.5 million. "Essentially, we rent them an empty box and they fill it up, create the marketplace," says Meyer. The fee includes lighting, air conditioning, and all the electricity needed to run the show, plus meeting room setups and bathroom maintenance. Everything else is up to the show management and the exhibitors to cover.

For starters, CES exhibitors pay $32 to $37 a square foot for their booths' real estate and the planning/promotional services of CEA's full-time staff of 150. Booths range from a tiny 10 x 10 foot plot to Panasonic's showstopping 60 x 433 megaspace - an $830,000-plus rental. "We counsel the exhibitors to budget an equal amount for rental of fixtures, custom signage, and booth staffing," says Chupka.

To stand out from the crowd, major show exhibitors opt for a customized booth, which will cost them a minimum of $1 million to $4 million to construct. "Given the state of the economy, though, most exhibitors will just freshen up their old booth for several years," asserts Allan Brown, the vice president of sales for Sparks Exhibits & Environments. "We're also building them now with lighter materials and in modular form. That helps lower the drayage [move-in] costs and makes it possible for display sections to be reused at other shows throughout the year."

But the truth is, some audacious CES newcomer with a wacky idea like scented e-mail messaging technology can get away with a non-functioning concept piece displayed on a card table and still wind up on the news. The TV media, including the oft-present network morning shows, especially eat up the wackiest gizmos at CES.

At the other end of the spectrum is international electronics giant Panasonic, this year hosting a 26,000-square-foot exhibit with hundreds of ready-to-go products and enough room for 5,000 visitors. "Yes, we come to sell, but more so to educate, to point to future directions, and to communicate the positive message of the company," says Gene Kelsey, vice president of Panasonic's brand strategy group.