Legendary IT trade show Comdex has been cancelled due to lack of interest, its organisers, MediaLive, said yesterday.
It has been "postponed" rather than written off, a statement on the official Comdex website says, and the next show will be in Las Vegas in November 2005, but the cancellation has led some to suggest it may be the end of the institution.
"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," said MediaLive president and CEO Robert Priest-Heck. Instead, the company has created an advisory board to "determine how Comdex can best meet the future needs of the industry". Representatives from Microsoft, Intel, AMD, Oracle, EMC, Cisco and Dell, among others are involved, he claimed.
Other Comdex events around the world, including shows in Korea, Scandinavia, Saudi Arabia, Brazil and Greece, will go ahead as planned.
However the statement could well be Comdex's epitaph, Andrew Olson, managing director for consulting firm Team Group warned: "MediaLive's marketing never understood the marketplace. I don't think it's going to come back."
From the days of attracting almost 250,000 visitors at its peak in the mid-1990s, numbers have been falling.In 2000, it was down to 200,000 and last year only a measly 50,000 attended. It started going downhill from the ime Key3Media Group (later renamed MediaLive International) bought it from Softbank in 1995, according to Olson. Olson spoke at the first Comdex trade show in 1979, when it featured about 170 exhibitors and a few thousand attendees.
"At that time, we had only one other user conference - the National Computer Conference." he said. "It was exciting to be part of something that was growing every year. It was the single best location for maximum coverage of the industry and a good place to meet prospective clients. It was so big that everyone had to go."
But from a trade show that generated a buzz, Comdex got so bloated that it started to collapse under its own weight in the late 1990s. The quality of attendees declined and as a result exhibitors stopped coming. Last year, Oracle, SAP, HP and BEA had little or no presence.
Business buyers originally went to Comdex to meet sellers, said analyst Rob Enderle. "Over the last couple of years, the show lost its centre. It became too much of a toy show," he said. MediaLive tried to rebuild the show, but while it had some of the sellers, it didn't have enough buyers because they had not budgeted for the event, Enderle said. "One of the big blows was losing IBM," which stopped attending in 1998.
Moreover, in today's highly competitive environment sellers can no longer wait for Comdex to make a splashy product introduction. "If the product's ready for market, you've got to introduce it," Olson said. Sellers either go on a road show or to regional shows to launch their products, he said.
Faced with increasing competition from the Consumer Electronics Show held every January in Las Vegas, Comdex tried to embrace the consumer electronics market. Because of that, the show headed off on the wrong course, Enderle said. "They shouldn't have jumped into consumer electronics, it almost killed the show," he said.
Since MediaLive emerged from bankruptcy in July 2003, its aim has been to bring trust back to the Comdex brand, said Comdex general manager Eric Faurot. "We took over management of Comdex a year ago and built a team that knew this market," he said. The new team has put greater focus on qualifying the audience of buyers and sellers, he argued. "All of the key vendors believe we're doing the right thing," he pleaded. But it seems events have pulled that particular carpet from under his feet.
Ironically, Comdex's cancellation comes as IT spending is expected to grow 5 percent this year, driven by an improving global economy.