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Big firms eschew Comdex booths

If you're looking to see technology demonstrations from the largest companies in the computer industry, Comdex, ironically, may not be the place to do it.

If you're looking to see technology demonstrations from the largest companies in the computer industry, Comdex, ironically, may not be the place to do it.

A number of large high-tech firms, including Intel, Advanced Micro Devices, and Dell Computer, will not erect booths on the convention floor at the six-day gathering that starts on November 15.

And, while many of these companies will have meeting rooms inside the Las Vegas Convention Center, others will not even go that far. Some, such as IBM and Micron Electronics, will eschew the convention center entirely and hold meetings in hotels and restaurants around Las Vegas.

Although the roster of companies on the floor show changes annually, the number of big companies not setting up booths on the show flow has increased this year. IBM, Intel, and AMD, for instance, had floor displays last year while Dell and Apple Computer could be seen on floor two years ago.

These companies won't be completely absent from the show, pointed out Bill Sell, general manager of Comdex for Softbank. Craig Barrett and Eckhard Pfeiffer, CEOs of Intel and Compaq, two booth-less companies, will deliver keynotes. Nearly all major companies are advertising heavily at the show and a number of the booth-less companies will have their products on display at partner locations.

Nonetheless, the companies are seemingly cutting back on the marketing effort they put into the show this year.

The reason, say many, lies in the costs involved and the nature of the show itself. Staging a large presence at a trade show can easily run into the millions, said many. Floor show space costs $49.95 per square foot. While this puts Comdex on par in terms of expenses with other shows, the audience, said many, is not targeted. Everybody and anybody shows up.

Companies, however, would rather get in front of specific segments of consumers or computer executives. Meeting room space in the convention center costs the same, but allows these companies to reach their target audiences more efficiently.

"When you look at marketing and communications budgets, you have a finite amount of money to spend. You have to make difficult choices," said an AMD spokesman. "The square footage is fairly expensive."

AMD will use the convention to show off its K7 processor publicly for the first time.

"We can't see the return on investment," said a Dell executive.

Intel, AMD, and Dell will have meeting rooms in the convention center. Digital, which has historically had some floor presence, will also go the meeting room route. IBM and Micron, however, will strictly play on the periphery.

IBM has meeting rooms at the convention, but at hotels independent of Softbank's events, said Sell. Softbank does not receive revenues on these meeting rooms.

Micron was going to rent meeting rooms for this year's show, said sources, but pulled out for the hotel and restaurant option.

"The value of trade shows, especially when they are prohibitively expensive, is questionable," said a source at Micron. "The return on investment is better, and the food is better."

IBM became the first visible no-show for the convention when it called the show "a waste of money" last December and said it would not return. IBM spokesman John Bukovinsky said then that the company would save millions of dollars by not participating.

"Their claims on the number of people attending the show, and the demographics on the types of customers that go, can't be substantiated," he said. "We've asked for an independent audit for a number of years, and they've refused."

Despite these drop-outs, other companies are expanding their presence. National Semiconductor will spend approximately $1 million on a presence at the show this year, said officials at that company.

Sell said that approximately 220,000 are expected at the convention. Sell would not comment on expected revenues for the event.