This falls 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.
“Comdex was very relevant in the early days, when the industry was in its infancy,” said John Halamka, CIO of Harvard Medical School and CareGroup Healthcare System, in Boston. “It then grew too large and became hard to navigate. As the industry matured, more vertical, focused conferences became more attractive. Comdex has no real relevance for me.”
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.
Robert Priest-Heck, president and CEO of MediaLive, said in a statement that the company is trying to “rebuild the markets 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 years show.”
Last years Comdex, the first run by MediaLive, attracted more than 40,000 qualified technology buyers and 550 exhibiting companies, according to MediaLive officials.
But the shows total attendance was just 51,000, compared to nearly 125,000 in 2002, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. That lowered Comdexs 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 years Comdex.
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 didnt let people in who werent 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.
Comdexs 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 years show.
“Its important for us to reach out to those companies,” Faurot said. “Were 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 agencys sales executives are working to find a replacement for that week. But she said November is the strongest month for conventions in Vegas.
“Well work very closely with MediaLive to make sure that Comdex is a success in 2005,” she said, adding that she doesnt 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 youve been watching whats been going on, it hasnt 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 hadnt been there in 2003 and 2002.”
CeBIT America in New York last month drew about 10,000 attendees in its second year of existence. “Thats 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.
“Its quality, not just quantity, of attendees that counts today,” he said.
Schafer said Hannover Fairs USA has no plans to develop an IT trade show for Las Vegas in Comdexs absence.
The climate for IT trade shows has been changing and is at a critical juncture, said Bill Sell, vice president of brand and customer development for Hannover Fairs.
“People dont go for a week anymore,” Sell said. “The technology manager today, after years of downsizing and budget cuts, doesnt have the time anymore. The day and age of a three- or four-day conference in a major city are pretty much gone.”
MediaLive plans to keep the Comdex name when the show resumes in 2005, Faurot said.
“Its a tremendously powerful brand, the only brand that can deliver 40,000 qualified IT buyers,” he said.
Additional reporting by Carmen Nobel and Stan Gibson