Exhibitor Shortage Puts Brakes on Comdex

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In its second year of putting on the IT conference, MediaLive International says it's "postponing" this year's event and has formed an advisory board to work on making it more relevant to IT buyers.

This fall's Comdex show has been canceled as the organizers of the marquee IT event seek greater participation from large IT companies and evaluate ways to make it more relevant to technology buyers.

MediaLive International Inc., which owns the Comdex brand, announced Wednesday that the show, which had been scheduled for Nov. 14 to 16 in Las Vegas, has been "postponed." The San Francisco-based company said it has formed an advisory board comprising IT industry leaders to help "reshape" the event.

The board includes representatives of companies such as Advanced Micro Devices Inc., Intel Corp. and Dell Inc., which have pulled out of Comdex in the past, as have other large IT companies such as IBM Corp. and Sony Corp.

According to a company news release, the advisory board will assess the value of an industry event such as Comdex from the perspective of vendors, buyers, media and other stakeholders; and it will recommend modifications to Comdex accordingly.

Members of the Comdex advisory board include John Volkmann, vice president of strategic communications at AMD; George Paolini, vice president and general manager of developer tools at Borland Software Corp.; Mark Fredrickson, vice president of corporate communications at EMC Corp.; Timothy J. Curran, CEO of Global Technology Distribution Council; Jeff Singsaas, director of events at Microsoft Corp.; Robert Shimp, vice president of technology marketing at Oracle Corp.; and Peter Weedfald, senior vice president of strategic marketing and new media at Samsung Electronics.

Executives from Cisco Systems Inc., Dell and Intel have also agreed to join the advisory board, and invitations have been extended to other companies, MediaLive officials said.

The company is trying to reposition the event as a more "focused, business-to-business IT event," officials said.

Click here to read about earlier moves by Comdex to draw vendors by narrowing its focus.

Robert Priest-Heck, president and CEO of MediaLive, said in a statement that the company is trying to "rebuild the market's trust" as it repositions Comdex.

"While we could still run a profitable Comdex this year, it does not benefit the industry to do so without broader support of the leading technology companies," Priest-Heck said. "In order to give the advisory board the time and opportunity necessary to partake in the redesign of Comdex, we thought it best to postpone this year's show."

Last year's Comdex, the first run by MediaLive, attracted more than 40,000 qualified technology buyers and 550 exhibiting companies, according to MediaLive officials.

But the show's total attendance was just 51,000, compared to nearly 125,000 in 2002, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. That lowered Comdex's nongaming economic impact on Vegas to just $69 million from $170 million the year before, according to the LVCA.

The LVCA projected numbers virtually identical to those of 2003 for this year's Comdex.

Next Page: Input from one of CeBIT's organizers.

Eric Faurot, vice president and general manager of Comdex for MediaLive, said the falloff in attendance was due in large part to Comdex trying to better qualify attendees based on their IT purchasing responsibilities.

"We didn't let people in who weren't part of the IT buying process," Faurot said.

While he claimed "tremendous strides" in making Comdex more relevant to the large IT companies whose participation is vital to the show, the cancellation for this year indicates that MediaLive still has a ways to go.

"We want to sit down with the industry leaders and balance the industry needs as a whole with the needs of individual companies," Faurot said.

Comdex's decline can be traced to 1998—long before the tech bubble burst—when IBM, Dell, Intel and AMD all declined to buy booth space for that year's show.

"It's important for us to reach out to those companies," Faurot said. "We're very excited to have Dell and Intel on our advisory board."

Marina Nicola, a spokeswoman for the LVCA, said Comdex remains valuable for her organization and is one of its largest shows.

"In the grand scheme of things, the trade show market is overall very strong for Las Vegas," she said.

Nicola said the LVCA just found out Wednesday that there would be no Comdex this year and that the agency's sales executives are working to find a replacement for that week. But she said November is the strongest month for conventions in Vegas.

"We'll work very closely with MediaLive to make sure that Comdex is a success in 2005," she said, adding that she doesn't think big tech shows in Vegas are dead. Nicola pointed out that the Consumer Electronics Show in January had a "record year."

"Overall, technology is rebounding," she said. "Comdex is still very important to us looking forward."

Joachim Schafer, president of Hannover Fairs USA Inc., a subsidiary of Deutcsche Messe AG, which produces the mammoth CeBIT show in Hannover, Germany, every year, said he was surprised and saddened by the Comdex news.

"If you've been watching what's been going on, it hasn't been easy for any of us," Schafer said. The economic downturn, the bursting of the tech bubble, war and corporate IT departments' need to do more with less resources have combined to lower attendance at IT trade shows, he said.

CeBIT, a massive technology showcase for both consumer electronics and business-to-business (B2B) IT, attracted about 500,000 attendees in March, Schafer said, though those numbers were down from a high of about 700,000 attendees in 2000 and 2001.

"It was a good show, it did what it was supposed to do," he said. "There was a buzz there that hadn't been there in 2003 and 2002."

CeBIT America in New York last month drew about 10,000 attendees in its second year of existence. "That's less than what we wished for, but when we analyzed the data, we found that the quality of attendees was superb," Schafer said, adding that the show succeeded in attracting attendees with substantial IT buying responsibility.

"It's quality, not just quantity, of attendees that counts today," he said.

Click here for a roundup of the best products at CeBIT America.

Schafer said Hannover Fairs USA has no plans to develop an IT trade show for Las Vegas in Comdex's absence.

MediaLive plans to keep the Comdex name when the show resumes in 2005, Faurot said.

"It's a tremendously powerful brand, the only brand that can deliver 40,000 qualified IT buyers," he said.

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