Analyst says Comdex could be history

The cancellation of MediaLive International Inc.’s Comdex trade show in Las Vegas this year was caused by mismanagement, poor marketing and a lack of focus, industry analysts said.

Despites promises to return in November 2005, Comdex could well be dead, according to Andrew Olson, managing director for consulting firm Team Group International. “MediaLive’s marketing never understood the marketplace. I don’t think it’s going to come back,” he said.

The show, which was cancelled for this year due to a lack of key vendors, is now in the hands of MediaLive’s board of industry experts, who will decide its future fate, said Eric Faurot, vice-president and general manager of the Comdex brand at MediaLive.

Comdex Canada hasn’t seen the light of day since 2002, and its future is also uncertain after the 2003 show faced repeated delays and was eventually cancelled altogether. A MediaLive spokesperson said the 2005 schedule for Canada “has not been announced,” and wouldn’t confirm whether or not Comdex Canada will likely return.

“The board is going to sit down, talk about where the industry is now and see how Comdex fits into the equation. It is the only brand available to 40,000 qualified buyers,” Faurot said. The board has executives from IT industry heavyweights including Microsoft Corp., Oracle Corp., EMC Corp. and AMD Inc.

From the days of attracting almost 250,000 visitors at its peak in the mid-1990s, to drawing less that 50,000 users last year, Comdex started going downhill from the time Key3Media Group Inc. (later renamed MediaLive International) bought it from Softbank Corp. 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. He enjoyed attending Comdex. “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 once generated a positive buzz, Comdex got so bloated that it started to collapse under its own weight in the late 1990s, he said. The quality of attendees declined and as a result exhibitors stopped coming.

Business buyers originally went to Comdex to meet sellers, said Rob Enderle, principal analyst for The Enderle Group. “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 (Corp.),” which stopped attending in 1998, he said.

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