June 23, 2004 9:34 AM PDT

Organizer cancels Comdex 2004

Computer trade show Comdex, once the biggest event on the tech calendar, has been canceled this year, a victim of the growing interest in shows emphasizing consumer electronics and specialist IT gear.

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Eric Faurot, vice president of Comdex organizer MediaLive International, revealed the plans in an exclusive interview with CNET News.com, saying the company plans to give Comdex a breather after years of falling attendance, in the number of both attendees and vendors.

"We feel that while we could run Comdex profitably this year, it really wouldn't serve the interests of the broader IT industry," he said. The international versions of the show are expected to continue as planned.


What's new:
This year's Comdex computer trade show has been canceled, a victim of the growing interest in shows emphasizing consumer electronics and specialist IT gear.

Bottom line:
A return of the show in 2005 depends on the ability of a newly formed advisory board comprising major vendors to rally support for the annual conference.

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Faurot maintained that Comdex, which has a long-term contract with the Las Vegas Convention Center running through 2007, would be back in 2005. Key to that return, however, is the ability of a newly formed advisory board comprising major vendors to rally support for the annual conference.

Comdex traces its roots to a casino owner who launched the Computer Dealers Exposition in 1979. Four years later a young Bill Gates delivered his first keynote speech and demonstrated Microsoft's new DOS 2.0. Although it grew to become one of the biggest trade shows in the world, at its peak attracting more than 200,000 attendees and filling more than 1 million square feet of floor space, Comdex's fortunes have sagged in the past few years as the tech economy faltered and security jitters kept some companies from traveling.

At the same time, the semirival Consumer Electronics Show (CES) has prospered, thanks in part to tech stalwarts such as Hewlett-Packard and Dell pushing gadgets that promise fatter profit margins than PCs, which have largely become a commodity business.

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This year's Comdex has been canceled. What are the odds it will return?

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Faurot said many of Comdex's problems were incubated in the dot-com bubble, when the former owners of the conference alienated exhibitors with high prices for floor space and attendees began complaining that the show had grown to unmanageable proportions.

"The brand came to represent some of the excesses of the '90s," he said. "It takes time to build trust back in the brand."

Many key exhibitors--most notably Dell--pulled out of Comdex in the late 1990s and to date have reappeared only on the sidelines, entertaining customers and press at private events away from the main show floor. (Dell had a small floor display at last year's show.) Faurot acknowledged that the practice of renting a hotel suite rather than booth space also hurt Comdex.

"It did create a tremendous sense of frustration," he said.

MediaLive last year tried to recast Comdex as a specialist show for IT managers, but the event drew only a handful of big-name exhibitors--despite modest cuts in the price of booth space--and a crowd of about 40,000 "qualified buyers," Faurot said.

The lackluster exhibitor lineup--about 550 largely smaller companies, many from Asia pushing narrow products such as hard drive enclosures--also hurt last year's show. In hopes of remedying that, MediaLive is forming a corporate advisory board for Comdex that will include representatives from Microsoft, Oracle, Dell and other tech giants. Executives from those companies, who have already been approached by MediaLive and expressed an interest in participating on such a board, will help reshape Comdex to make it more relevant to IT decision-makers, he said.

MediaLive will face a number of challenges in rebuilding Comdex, including increasing competition from the CES, which continues to attract more of the gadget-focused computing companies that once made Comdex a mainstay. The organizers of CES recently announced that next year's show will expand to use the Las Vegas Convention Center and the Sands Convention Center, reviving the geographic sprawl that helped make the booming Comdex such a logistical challenge.

Much of the technology world's interest has shifted to specialty trade shows, such as the CTIA wireless shindig and Sun Microsystems' JavaOne programmer bash.

Technology and economic trends haven't been kind to other general-purpose computing shows, either. New York's PC Expo has been revamped into TechXNY and now competes for attention with a sparsely attended American version of Germany's giant CeBit. The main CeBit show in Germany still managed to draw a crowd of 510,000 this year, down slightly from previous years but still ranking as the biggest in the industry.

Comdex has mirrored the up-and-down fortunes of the computing industry for nearly 25 years. Casino owner Sheldon Adelson launched the Computer Dealers Exposition at the dawn of the PC era, with the first event in 1979 attracting about 150 exhibitors and 4,000 attendees, mostly mesmerized by new Apple Computer products. The show grew to 83,000 attendees in 1983, when Microsoft Chairman Gates delivered his first keynote speech, showing off the company's snazzy new DOS 2.0 operating system with a slide show that featured actual slides.

The show kept growing with the PC industry, hitting 210,000 attendees and taking over most of Las Vegas in 1995, when Adelson's Interface Group sold Comdex and a number of related trade shows to Japanese computer distributor and trade magazine publisher Softbank.

The good time kept rolling through the 1990s, with Comdex peaking in 1998, when it attracted 212,000 attendees and 2,480 exhibitors eating up 1.38 million square feet of exhibit space.

Comdex came under the purview of Key3Media, a new Softbank spin-off dedicated to running trade shows, in 1999. The bottom fell out two years later, when the sagging tech economy and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks combined to push attendance down to 125,000.

It's been downhill from there, for Comdex and Key3, which recast itself as privately held MediaLive when it emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last year.


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Their real downfall??
It was when they divorced the AdultDex (adult videos) from Comdex - geeks and pr0n are a natural mix. When they moved the Adult Video convention to another date, I would bet that about half the folks decided to skip Comdex.

After all, a lot of Comdex dovetailed nicely with the adult entertainment industry - consumer electronics that would allow folks to make/view/edit adult videos was shown "next door" to the actual end product.

Of course, this is all hearsay as I would *never* attend such an event...
Posted by Milly Staples (24 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Besides AdultDex
You are completely accurate about COMDEX shooting themselves in the foot by distancing themselves from porn. The puritanical seem to have forgotten the biggest driver for VGA monitors was porn.

And then there was the money. The mis-management of COMDEX noted that they did not make the money they thought they should, so they increased to fees charged. Did anyone else ntice the vast number of hotel suites rented by companies because it was so much cheaper than COMDEX floor rent.

Follow the money .....
Posted by connectr (6 comments )
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CEBIT America next?
Not sure where CEBIT got the figure 15,000 from -but just to clarify - it is TECHXNY that has 20,000+ quality visitors - CEBIT America bombed out with generous estimated audiences of circa 3000. They did not take over PC Expo, (although they tried and failed), New York Technology Week, (TECHXNY) is going stronger than ever and set to have 500+ companies again this year, (incl all the big names) and circa 30,000 quality attendees.....Las Vegas was always a destination event place and was never going to be forever. New York and the Tri-states business continues to thrive.
Posted by (2 comments )
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No, CeBITAmerica lives, and will continue!
James -- COMDEX postponing 2004 won't stop your event TECHXNY (PC Expo) from running, and it won't stop CeBIT America EnterpriseIT either. Not sure where your 15,000 number comes from, as we reported 10,063 (pre-audit) from the event. The real concern in the tech sector is not where have all the big trade shows gone, but rather how and what role should face-to-face events play, and how can they best serve in the marketing mix of technology companies. Events are coming together and there is consolidation among events JUST LIKE there is between technology companies. Barely a day goes by when this industry isn't hearing about one merger or another, and many offer stronger opportunities with fewer players (but not all, of course).

CeBIT America EnterpriseIT is all about technology for the enterprise. Focus the event on the right audience, focus it on compelling technologies, and the marketplace will respond. We are open to talking to any one about our 2004 program (recently concluded), including you. Call us: 212-465-0531 or check it out on the web at www.cebit-america.com.
Posted by (1 comment )
Link Flag
Good bye COMDEX?
After attending 12 Fall Comdexs, I missed Comdex 2003 due to an injury. From what I heard, the 2003 show was very strange.

It sounds like the era of a show which tries to be all things to everyone in the tech field, is a thing of the past. There is too much information available over the internet, people have less time and money and they have specialized interests.

The narrow focus shows will continue on. CES, by focus on just consumer electronics is an example of this.
Posted by jamesievans (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Comex = Roman Empire
Let's see now. When we review the rise and decline of the Roman Emp...er that is to say, the rise and fall of Comdex, some observations come to mind.

1. You'd see peeps who were definitely incompetent in their jobs continually get rehired after being let go, and paid higher salaries.
2. You'd see purchases of other smaller shows/companies being made, which would then in turn be torpedoed months later.
3. You'd see Fred blow the company out, K3M screw over all their creditors w. the bankruptcy, all of the management cronies whacked, then low and behold, new company, new ballgame? Unfortunately, same management, same sneaky practices.
4. Lies, lies, and more lies about attendance.
5. No focus from upper management about how to best serve attendees and exhibitors. It was all about the money, and no value whatsoever. Strategy seemed to be, rape the exhibitor for as much as you could get per squeet, jam as many attendees as you could in the halls, and hopefully the show would just "take care of itself".
6. Mistreatment of the hardworking, frontline staff that worked their tails off behind the scenes, for little pay, and little recognition for their efforts.
7. BPH rolling around in a new Benz & Escalade, laughing all the way to the bank.
8. Hey, at least Rich had some AWESOME weed!!! :p
Posted by (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
And YES, I realize that Comdex was misspelled.
No SPG checkers in this piece of crap CNET webmailer.
Posted by (3 comments )
Link Flag
Memories Indeed
I think that I did every fall version from about 1989 to 1998 and about 3-4 Spring versions in the early to mid 1990s.

Even in its heyday its return on investment was often questionable. I do recall a few deals that were closed with distribution and retailers, and some decent contacts made, but compared to the astronomical costs of space, lodging, per deims and other costs associated with getting a team on location, profitability was a rose colored dream.

For many companies it became more of a sales, marketing and IT reward program, a travel to sin city for a week of partying and other debauchery. Items from those days i am not so proud of include blowing 1000s of dollars in various "clubs" and late night liasons with more than one young and also married "marketing hottie". The idea of what goes on in vegas, stays in vegas may have not originated there, but it was alive and well.

Maturity brings perspective. Business may have matured too and outgrown this one.
Posted by (1 comment )
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Sheldon Adelson
While reading my Newsweek I see that Sheldon Adelson has his sites on Macao, a former Portugese colony in China which is set to become the new Eastern Las Vegas. Always ahead of the curve, I thought. Minutes later I hear COMDEX has been canceled. Although it was under his management during the years when exhibitors were becoming alienated with higher prices and when the show "floors" were virtually bursting at the seams, exhausting attendees, he knew when it was time to go. Practically broke when he started the company, he created and grew a concept that previously didn't exist. After deciding things had run their course, he sold the company for $2billion. It seems odd the present owners of the shows blame the demise of the brand on him. I believe he moved on and no one had the vision to fill his shoes.
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