Shows No-Shows

As the tech economy food chain gets further strained, many industry trade shows are scrambling to survive

As the tech economy food chain gets further strained, many industry trade shows are scrambling to survive.

More than a few have gone to that Great Convention Center in the Sky, leaving tech marketers with fewer places to hawk their wares.

Both Compaq Computer and Dell Computer canceled their major user conferences last month, citing a need to cut costs. In March, Penton Media folded its Internet Everywhere CEO Summit, scheduled for late April, and wrapped the content into other undisclosed upcoming events.

Last week, Upside Media postponed its Digital Lifestyle Revolution conference, originally scheduled for early June, to an indeterminate date in the fall.

The stupefying combination of hype and seemingly unlimited venture capital so prevalent just a year ago has given way to a bad hangover for promoters of trade shows dedicated to now economically troubled sectors.

Attendees at the recent @dTech show in Los Angeles saw a markedly smaller exhibitor base and fewer walk-through visitors. This year, the show had 160 booths and 2,500 attendees, compared with 200 booths and 3,700 attendees in 2000.

"We had readjusted our expectations a few months back," said Joel Davis, vice president and general manager at Imark Communications, which owns @dTech.

Davis is confident that the sector will return in the next 18 months and that a niche vertical conference such as @dTech is well-positioned. "I feel very confident in our vertical strategy. General horizontal consumer events are going to get hit harder," Davis said.

Not so, said Rick Moore, a senior vice president at Key3Media Events, which operates Comdex, the granddaddy of all tech trade shows. Moore said the fall Comdex is "on track to be larger this year than last."

"Being more broad-based is key. You can benefit from sectors that are doing well," Moore said. This year, the show will focus on storage management and wireless technologies.

Last weeks Networld+Interop show in Las Vegas partially backed up Moores theory: 875 exhibitors participated, up from 750 last year. But foot traffic was expected to be down, with projections that 60,000 people would attend, compared with 100,000 last year. No official numbers were released.

Critical mass is the name of the game in the convention business, and one show that appears to be losing the battle is Internet World. The spring show in Los Angeles was sparsely attended.

Carl Pugh, president of the Internet events group at Penton Media, admitted that Internet World numbers are down compared with last year, but wouldnt give specifics. "Last year was such a kick-ass year, the frame of reference is almost unfair," Pugh said.