CES stays on Panasonic's radar screen year-round. "In fact," says Kelsey, "we have to book our space for next year on the first day of this show. Then we start reviewing and planning for the next one as soon as we get home."

Another way companies attract attention at CES is to opt for one of the show's special sponsoring opportunities - from the placement of their coolest television set in the HDTV Sports Bar ($2,500) to the rights to have their name on concession cups ($25,000) and badge holders ($30,000). The most unabashed media hounds will sponsor breakfast snacks, lunches, and computer workstations for the press, as well as put their corporate logos on the rolling luggage supplied to journalists for hauling away the 50-pound stash of CES press kits.

Featured speakers neither pay nor are paid to appear at CES. But the top corporate titans often invest huge amounts in their presentations, sometimes with surprise celebrity guests like Drew Barrymore (for Sony) and wrestler-turned-actor The Rock (for Microsoft). The show does foot the travel bill for some federal government types who are invited to CES on "fact-finding missions" so they can get a better understanding of the technology and its implications.

Much of the CES convention is built by GES Exposition Services, the Vegas-based general services contractor. According to executive vice president Daryl Clove, GES crews will handle a staggering 13 million pounds of imported materials (filling approximately 2,000 trucks), plus an additional seven million pounds of gear that GES rents to exhibitors. The construction and load-in of the show starts the day after Christmas, eventually requiring the services of some 4,000 Teamsters, carpenters, electricians, and stagehands.

GES operatives clearly have their work cut out for them, starting with the correct placement of 200,000 square feet of show signage, critical for pointing conventioneers in the right direction. Later comes the immense chore of wiring the show for power and some satellite feeds - in all, more than 50 miles of wire.

Even into the evening hours before the opening, the show floor remains a hard-hat-only zone, with plenty of loose poles, exposed cables, ladders to trip over, and a blaring cacophony of sounds - from the whir of power drills and forklifts to the testing of the public address systems.

Last in comes 1.8 million square feet of carpet. "Enough to fill 1,000 homes," says Clove. Then all the booths and public spaces, almost three million square feet in all, are vacuumed clean.