Comdex to get with IT this year

The 2003 edition of the Las Vegas trade show will be better tailored to the tastes of tech buyers, its organizers say. It will also be a lot smaller than earlier extravaganzas.

Michael Kanellos Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.
Michael Kanellos
3 min read
Comdex will be more sharply tailored to suit the tastes of IT buyers this year, its organizers say. It will also be a lot smaller than it used to be.

Security, utility computing, wireless communications and other workplace technology issues will dominate in the product exhibitions and conference sessions at the weeklong trade show, which begins Nov. 16 in Las Vegas, according to Eric Faurot, vice president and general manager of the conference for MediaLive International. That's a change from recent years when the event became a showcase for a wide variety of electronic goods.

Large companies that had stopped officially participating in Comdex will also be part of the agenda this year, he added. Dell will have a booth on the show floor for the first time since 1997. Meanwhile, IBM executives will speak on two panels, and Intel will maintain a booth inside the Microsoft pavilion. In recent years, both companies were no-shows.

"An $870 billion market is going to need an annual gathering," Faurot said. "At the end of the day, people like to be in front of each other."

The conference, though, will be nowhere near as large as it once was. Only around 50,000 people are expected to attend the show, Faurot stated. An estimated 500 exhibitors are set to occupy 150,000 square feet of exhibit floor space, one exhibit hall in the Las Vegas Convention Center.

In the boom years, the show occupied two separate convention centers, and the estimated 200,000 attendees wandered the streets in search of warm sales leads and free food. In 2001, attendance dropped to 125,000 and last year, it sank even lower.

The changes are a matter of survival for MediaLive, the conference organizer. The company, formerly known as Key3Media, emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy in June.

During the tech boom years, the show mushroomed in size to embrace consumer products and other items. Although aggregate exhibit space expanded, large companies such as Intel, Gateway and Sony began to desert the show and instead rent meeting rooms elsewhere in town where they showed off products and held gatherings independently.

When the economic downturn began, exhibitors and attendance began to contract. Comdex increasingly became a showcase for a disparate array of items, including office furniture, massage chairs and decorative globes. Last year, up to 30 percent of the exhibits involved digital cameras. The lack of focus was one of the chief complaints from exhibitors and attendees, Faurot said.

This year, exhibit space is being leased only to business computing groups, Faurot said. "No car companies, no massage chairs."

The Japanese conglomerate Canon, for instance, plans to have a booth. But, instead of exhibiting digital cameras and home printers, it will tout Canon's IT group, which will make a wireless announcement.

"They (Canon's IT group) get lost when they go in a corporate umbrella," said

To attract exhibitors, the company dropped its prices. Floor space this year starts at around $49.95 a square foot for the week, comparable to other trade shows. In past years, organizers charged $60 or more per square foot.

The conference is set to begin on Sunday, Nov. 16, with a keynote speech from Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft. Exhibits open the next day. Other speakers include Scott McNealy, CEO of Sun Microsystems; Thomas Siebel, CEO of Siebel Systems; David Nagel, CEO of PalmSource; and John Thompson, CEO of Symantec.

Although attendance at big trade shows is down all over the industry, another company is competing for the same audience. Enterprise IT Week, sponsored by Jupiter Communications, will take place at the same time. Among the highlights is a keynote by SCO Group CEO Darl McBride, whose company is at the center of a controversial lawsuit over the Linux operating system.

Comdex began 23 years ago as the brainchild of casino owner Sheldon Adelson. The show was eventually sold to Japan's Softbank and became part of the events business within the Ziff-Davis media empire.

Ziff-Davis' holdings were later split into three main entities: a magazine publishing unit that was sold to a private investment group; online unit ZDNet, which was purchased by News.com publisher CNET Networks; and Key3Media, which was spun off to Ziff-Davis shareholders as a public company and subsequently renamed.