Can Comdex Redefine Itself?

The once high-flying trade show promises a renewed focus on enterprise IT as it faces increased competition on its own turf from Jupitermedia.

When Comdex Las Vegas 2003 opens next week, gone will be the massage tables, the luxury cars and the consumer trinkets and gadgets that once dotted the trade show floor disguised as enterprise IT.

This year, Comdexs organizers are promising to focus solely on business IT in a markedly downsized show being billed as "year one of the new Comdex." But Comdex wont be the only show vying for the attention of IT managers.

A competing show is debuting 3 miles away from Comdexs home at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Jupitermedia Corp.s Jupiterevents group is putting on the Enterprise IT Week at cdXpo conference and exhibition at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in hopes of capturing vendors and attendees disaffected with Comdex.

Comdexs aim is to rebuild trust with both exhibitors and attendees that it is a premiere show for IT, not a catch-all of technology gadgets, said Eric Faurot, vice president and general manager for Comdex.

"The buyers were telling us that Comdex just got too big and that it was hard to do business there," Faurot said. "Was it a consumer show and what was the value it was offering?"

Whether the changes will be enough to sustain Comdex remains to be seen. Comdexs parent company only emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in June. At that time, the company renamed itself MediaLive International Inc. from Key3Media Group and relocated to San Francisco.

As part of the makeover, Comdex organizers have turned away exhibitors who cant prove that they have an IT product to demonstrate—including refunding $45,000 in booth space—and have required attendees to prove that they are IT buyers in order to receive free admission to the show floor. Others will have to pay $50 for an advance exhibit pass or $100 at the show, Faurot said.

Comdex is expecting about 50,000 attendees, about half the attendance it had last year. The exhibition, which covered nearly 875,000 square feet in its 1990s heyday, this year will fill one hall with 150,000 square feet of space and between 500 and 600 companies, Faurot said.

Meanwhile, Jupitermedia Chairman and CEO Alan Meckler said he saw an opportunity for a smaller, more-focused enterprise IT show as Comdex has fallen in attendance and stature. He expects Enterprise IT Week at cdXpo to draw between 3,500 and 6,500 attendees and 50-odd exhibitors, Meckler said.

"My belief is that the [Comdex] show wont run again," Meckler said. "I call them a tumbleweed show, and we are going to try to fill the void."

Comdex isnt Mecklers only target. Jupiterevents earlier this month also added a spring Enterprise IT Week at cdXpo show in New York to coincide with the CeBIT America trade show in May, he said.

Though Comdex itself has opted for a renewed focus on IT with a smaller show, Meckler said its too little, too late and that it is difficult for a trade show that once was known for extravagance and largesse to redefine itself.

"Comdex suffers from what it was, and Im not sure you can overcome that," he said.

But Faurot sees the new competition helping Comdex redefine itself.

"One benefit is it will let us be compared to something besides our past," he said.

Comdex, no doubt, has drawn keynote speakers of a higher stature, including landing the perennial Sunday night keynote by Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates. Enterprise IT Week at cdXpos lineup includes mainly executive vice presidents and vice presidents at large enterprise IT vendors including Hewlett-Packard Co., Cisco Systems Inc. and IBM Global Services. One exception is Darl McBride, the CEO and president of The SCO Group, who is scheduled to speak about his companys legal battle around Linux.

Comdex organizers also are touting new and returning vendors. Siebel Systems Inc. is making its first appearance on the exhibition floor as well as having its chairman and CEO, Tom Siebel, featured as a keynote speaker. Dell Inc. also is a returning with a booth after a six-year hiatus, Faurot said.

Also making its debut at Comdex this year is open-source database vendor MySQL Inc. The small company decided to add Comdex to its trade show list partly because of its renewed focus on IT and because it has a track in the conference portion that emphasizes open source and Linux, said CEO Marten Mickos.

"This year we realized that Comdex will be significant," Mickos said. "There arent that many shows left and Comdex is not just a gadget show this year."

Comdex has targeted seven core themes this year. Along with open source and Linux, they are security, wireless and mobility, Windows, on-demand computing, Web services and the digital enterprise.

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