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HolidayBuyer's Guide
Tech Industry

Few tears shed for canceled Comdex

Comdex veterans ponder freedom from the annual computing trade show, which normally would be happening in Sin City right about now.

It's called a turkey, guys. It usually comes from a grocery store, requires quite a bit of thawing and hurts like heck if you drop it on your foot.

The preceding clarification is for the benefit of computer industry analysts, marketers and journalists, who are now facing their first pre-Thanksgiving week in a quarter century without the Comdex trade show in Las Vegas.

Comdex organizer MediaLive International announced earlier this year that it was canceling Comdex 2004, saying the company needed time to rebuild the show after years of declining attendance, inconsistent marketing and growing competition from events such as the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January.

For Comdex veterans such as Richard Doherty, director of research firm Envisioneering Group, the cancellation promises a different kind of holiday.

"It's the first quiet November leading into Thanksgiving I've had in 23 years," Doherty said. "It's always been this mad racing week to finish up in Las Vegas and get ready for the holiday, and I'm looking forward to skipping that part. I'll be giving thanks this year for not sleeping through the early part of dinner."

Stephen Baker, an analyst at research firm The NPD Group, is also enjoying the change in routine.

It's kind of like your first wife--after a while, you just don't think about her very often.
--Stephen Baker,
veteran Comdex attendee

"This is the first year I get to participate in school events and those kind of things," he said. "It's a very interesting feeling being home this week."

Baker said neither he nor any of his colleagues and contacts were pining for Comdex, which usually lasts four or five days and at its peak attracted more than 200,000 attendees.

"I haven't heard anyone mention anything about it," he said. "It's kind of like your first wife--after a while, you just don't think about her very often."

MediaLive has next year's Comdex booked for Nov. 13 to 17. MediaLive Vice President Eric Faurot said a recent survey conducted by the company shows there's still solid interest in Comdex. "It reinforces our belief that a nearly trillion-dollar IT industry benefits from having an event like Comdex," he said.

However, Baker and other analysts expressed skepticism about whether MediaLive can revive the show.

"I don't know of any shows that have been able to bring themselves back," Baker said. "I still think there's a need for another broad-based show to take some of the pressure off CES, but I don't know if Comdex is going to be it. I guess the fact nobody I know has really thought about it this year shows nobody really misses it."

Roger Kay, an analyst for research company IDC and another Comdex veteran, said MediaLive will have to fix a number of long-standing problems--including overpriced booth space that pushed many exhibitors to conduct private meetings at hotels--to make the event work again.

"They're going to have to promise it's not going to be the rapacious experience it was in the past, where it got to the point that only the richest companies like Microsoft could afford to just throw money at it and not worry about whether it was money well spent," Kay said.

Meanwhile, if you're thinking of a quickie Vegas getaway, this may be the week to do it. After decades of scaring away any non-techie tourists with a lick of sense, as well as most big-name entertainment acts, the town is wide open without Comdex this week. Orbitz shows plenty of hotel rooms for less than $50; Charo, Carrot Top and Engelbert Humperdink are all performing; and the security lines at McCarran Airport reportedly are moving briskly.