If there’s one thing you can count on in a digital culture, it’s change. Some new concept or reality that rewires our perceptions, reconfigures our business models and changes the game. At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, we experienced the latest shift—the network(ed) effect

Our phones, TV’s, car, refrigerators, and washing machines – even our mirrors - now can access the Internet, linking together in on interactive, customized, always-on media network. And that, as we all know, has utterly transformed the way brands interact with consumers.

Connection is king and last week at CES, we witnessed its continued reign. Because it is not just the devices that have become connected – so has CES itself.

What was once a place for buyers and sellers of hardware, a ballyhooed consumer electronics product parade amplified by a barrage of breathless media coverage, has evolved into a true business nexus. Technologists, media and marketers alike now find unlimited opportunity to connect at CES in meaningful and, hopefully, profitable ways.

There is learning in the exhibit halls, and that is important. But even more critically, real partnerships are negotiated and personal business networks are created, deepened and sustained in conference rooms and lobby lounges across the city. CES is now a place and time where the Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and Madison Avenue constituencies have found purpose. Where major organizations journey to hold worldwide meetings and everyone gets together in a central location to do business – creating a live network effect of talent and expertise. CES has become a vibrant marketplace of ideas and opportunities, not just a show.

Vegas has a replica of everything…even the scene on the Croisette.

And the community is only getting stronger. MediaLink’s continued partnership with the CEA, called Brand Matters, attracted thousands of participants and top marketers this year, including Unilever, GE, JP Morgan Chase, The Coca-Cola Company, and American Express among many others.

And the conversation at CES is changing as well. Many call it a software show as much as a hardware show, yet one of the keynotes was given by a man who founded his company with the mission statement “The End of Software.” Marc Benioff – chairman, CEO and founder of Salesforce.com, joined me for a fireside chat during the Brand Matters keynote. He was then followed by top executives from AT&T, American Express, The Coca-Cola Company, and Unilever coming on stage to discuss how they harness innovation in their campaigns and their organizations.

Naturally, great people and great talent from across industries make for great parties. The Clear Channel event on Wednesday night in the Aria was epic (when did Bob Pittman ever throw a bad party?) as were the Twitter and YouTube events. For our part, MediaLink began to hold a good-sized party of its own a few years ago, and we took great pains to bring all the players together. It worked so well that now our CES official kickoff party kept a club with a capacity of 1,200 full all evening.

The goal for everyone is transformation, the better to develop and activate connections. Not just to find new outlets but to change the way companies think about how they are or should be organized, who they are or should be partnering with, and what all of that means. It helps when you can bring all the interested parties together to do that in a show that both celebrates and breeds innovation.

What we are seeing at CES, why the show has so quickly expanded its horizon from a collection of devices and the software that enables them to work to a collection of industries linked in a virtuous circle, is the realization of the key promise of our digital ecosystem. It is an early manifestation of where we’re all going—an emerging integrated business environment in which the boundaries between technology maker and user, consumer and marketer, disappear.

Just as devices have become networks, so has the conference that celebrates them. That ought to keep CES at the top of our must-attend list for quite some time.

Michael E. Kassan is Chairman and CEO of MediaLink, LLC, a leading Los Angeles and New York City-based advisory and business development firm that provides critical counsel and direction on issues of marketing, advertising, media, entertainment and digital technology. Michael can be reached at michael@medialinkllc.com

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