You really can’t tell much about an event like CeBIT when it opens. The opening press party was as crazed as ever; the buffet was as sumptuous as ever; and the drinks flowed as freely as ever.
Likewise, the opening ceremony was just like it always is with a downtown arena filled with people waiting to listen to politicians and business leaders hold forth on the wonders and promise of technology, or in the case of the local politicians, on why they should be re-elected.
It was only when the show really opened that one got a sense of the diminished scale of this largest of all technology shows. When I first began covering this show a decade ago, it filled all 26 buildings of what was once the site of Expo 2000, the Hannover World’s Fair. This is a big place with its own rail station, its own stop on the city’s transit line and its own set of roads to bring in visitors. The 26 pavilions were once the sites of national expositions and the buildings were then and now, as futuristic as you’d expect.
Now, a decade later, only 16 of those convention halls are occupied by CeBIT. Last year, 24 of the halls were in use. Likewise this year the international press corps attending the show was considerably diminished. While I don’t have official numbers of the members of the press, there were ways you could tell.
A year ago you had to arrive early if you wanted to get a work space at the Presse Centrum, as the building that houses the media is called. You had to reserve your locker for your equipment and your coat on the first day or you wouldn’t get one. And you could count on sharing a table with someone you didn’t know at lunch, if you could find a seat at all.
This year there were workspaces aplenty; the equipment lockers never sold out; and the press cafeteria was never full. Even more striking, there was always space in the dedicated press coffee bar. Not once was I forced to work without caffeine.
Many of my colleagues in the media took this to mean that big trade shows, and CeBIT specifically, were dead. They would point to the smaller numbers and say that the businesses and manufacturers that depend on these events have found other ways (mainly the Internet) to market their wares or find the products they wanted to buy. My esteemed colleagues are, of course, wrong. But then, they usually are. After all, this is why you read eWEEK, right?
In fact, CeBIT was smaller this year, but not because trade shows or big technology events are somehow passé, but because the European economy is in a serious swoon.