Boston, August 13 – Trade shows for the computer industry are changing and evolving as fast as the technology itself. In the last few weeks, several shows have been canceled, retooled, removed, postponed and/or amalgamated. What will the technology trade show landscape look like in 2005? Trade Show Executive magazine’s Contributing Editor Peter Bochner talks with the experts and gives you an in-depth perspective in the two stories that follow.
A Chronology of Tech Show Announcements
By Peter Bochner, Contributing Editor
Last week, Hannover Fairs USA suddenly cancelled the 2005 CeBit America technology trade show. The announcement comes two weeks after IDG Expo announced it would retool the 25-year-old ComNet telecommunications show to be a more focused event and two months after the postponement in June of the 2004 edition of the venerable COMDEX Las Vegas show by MediaLive International.
CeBit America was to have taken place next June at New York’s Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. But Joachim Schafer, president of Hannover Fairs USA, said in a statement that CeBit America — the U.S. offspring of the CeBit technology trade fair in Hannover, Germany – “has not generated enough revenue to justify a third year.” He called the decision “a reflection of a changing high-tech industry as well as the overall U.S. economy.”
However, according to William R. Sell, who until last week was Vice President of Brand and Customer Development for CeBit America, the show was killed off “not because the concept didn’t work. The problem was cash flow.”
As Sell pointed out, it used to be that “exhibitors at a technology trade show paid for their booths 9 to 12 months in advance.” In today’s economy, he said, a trade show producer “doesn’t see that money for a June event until February or March.” When that happens, he said, “you need alternative sources of funding, like a bank line of credit or a parent company with deep pockets.”
Sell also said that, because of the CeBit name, the domestic show was “looked at automatically as a large horizontal event. But we were never trying to be the big broad event that COMDEX or TECHXNY is. If there was a mistake, it was in not trying to come up with a different brand name, such as Enterprise Computing Expo, which would have been a better way to position the show.”
Eric Faurot, VP & General Manager for COMDEX at MediaLive International, said the decision to scrap CeBit America 2005 “would have no impact on [his company’s] belief that the computer industry has to have an annual gathering.”
However, if the IT industry were to decide it did not need a major annual event, it would not be the first industry to do so. As Doug Ducate, President and CEO of the Center for Exhibition Industry Research said, there are some 2,400 healthcare-related events, but no one annual gathering for the entire industry. He said that annual industry gatherings may also be endangered in certain finished goods areas, where there has been significant consolidation at the retail level. He said, for instance, that major events for the housewares and hardware industries must constantly look for new features or broaden their scope in order to remain strong.
Another reason that annual gatherings may be in peril is because such events used to revolve around new product launches. But in the Internet economy, Ducate said, “the new mantra is first to market, and companies are looking for new ways to do product launches. This is changing one of the fundamental purposes of the annual trade show.”
However, Ducate said that some of the cancellations and repositionings of technology trade shows were, in all likelihood, due to the continued financial stress of the high-tech sector. Ever since its earliest days, the industry has held an annual gathering, he said. “I’d be surprised if it didn’t do that again, whether that’s COMDEX or some new launch.”
At MediaLive, they’re convinced that in 2005 that event will be COMDEX.MediaLive has assembled an advisory council of executives from leading companies such as Intel Corp., Microsoft, Dell Computer Corp, and EMC Corp., to decide how COMDEX can be revamped to best meet the needs of exhibitors and attendees. Asked if there will definitely be a U.S. COMDEX in 2005, Faurot said, “None of these executives would have agreed to [serve on the advisory council] if it was an exercise in futility.”
One thing’s for sure: Between cancellations and repositionings, it’s hard to say what the 2005 technology trade show landscape will look like. There are those who doubt COMDEX will reappear. IDG Expo is “retooling” ComNet, according to Doug Gold, VP of Business Development for the show producer, who says the repositioned conference will be “more finely tuned, not the broad omnibus it once was.” Sell says that there are several potential buyers for CeBit America’s assets, so even that show may rise from the ashes, though, he pointed out, with a different name and a clearer focus.
Hewlett-Packard Announces Umbrella Event for Users in 2005;
Broad Event will not Subsume Smaller Shows
By Peter Bochner, Contributing Editor
Palo Alto, CA – When computer industry giant Hewlett-Packard announced in late July that it would create its own umbrella conference for users of its hardware and software products, some thought it the death knell for the more focused trade shows produced by HP professional associations and user groups.
However, last week, three of the four major HP user groups said they would carry on with their own focused shows in 2005. They will also work with HP on an exhibitor and conference steering committee for the new show, which will be called the HP Technology Forum 2005, to be held Sept. 12 to 15 at the Ernest Morial Convention Center in New Orleans. The show is seen by HP as an opportunity to present a unified, certified educational and training opportunity for its broad base of customers and staff.
Headquartered in Palo Alto, CA, HP is the one of the largest vendors of computer hardware and software, following its 2003 acquisition of Compaq Computer Co., which itself had purchased Digital Equipment Corp. in 1998. Many HP customers have multiple solutions and platforms running in their IT environments, and Engelina Jaspers, Senior Director of Corporate Marketing for HP, Americas, said the new show came in response to those customers asking for “a venue and an opportunity to put all those pieces together.” Although she could offer no estimates yet for the Technology Forum’s attendance or size, she did say the attendance would be “much more” than the 7,000 figure anticipated at the upcoming HP World Conference, which will be held Aug. 16-20 at McCormick Place in Chicago.
New Show Announced as Others are “Postponed,’ ‘Removed”, ‘Retooled’ and ‘Canceled’
The announcement of the Technology Forum comes during a rash of cancellations, postponements and makeovers of trade shows serving the computer industry. In June, MediaLive International postponed COMDEX Las Vegas (but not the five other COMDEX shows held overseas). In July, Content World LLC cancelled the fledgling Content World show, then IDG Expo said it would “retool” the venerable COMNET Conference & Expo, a telecommunications show, from a broad omnibus trade show into a more finely tuned event. In August, Hannover Fairs USA, Inc. “removed” CeBIT America from its roster of 2005 events, citing revenue concerns.
The Debate: Small Member-Driven Events vs. One Umbrella Event
The creation of the Technology Forum initially called into question the continued existence of three niche shows produced by HP’s four user groups: Interex (The International Association of Hewlett-Packard Computing Professionals), Encompass, the OpenView Forum International and ITUG (the International Tandem Users Group). Even an HP press release said the new show would “coalesce the various HP user events under one roof.”
But executives at the HP user groups had doubts about HP’s position. They questioned whether moving from smaller member-driven events to one marketing-driven event would be in the best interest of their members. “There are potential upsides, but if the resulting show becomes so broad, you may miss some of the focused needs of the customer base,” said Ronald Evans, Executive Director and CEO of Sunnyvale, CA-based Interex.
An HP spokesperson said that HP did not view the Technology Forum as a marketing-driven effort, saying that the show would have a “technical focus.”
Jeff Kaplan, Managing Director of THINKstrategies, a consulting firm in Wellesley, MA, said the move to hold a larger show made sense. “While some HP customers may be disappointed because [the new show] broadens the scope, it does make sense from the standpoint of cost consolidation.” Many user groups who have sponsored these types of events have been decimated by layoffs, he said, adding. “They’re having a hard time supporting their own events.”
However, William Sell, managing partner at Expo Advisors, a trade show consultancy in Framingham, MA, says that user group shows are holding their own in today’s economy. Such vertical shows, centered around a smaller niche of customers, “can survive in this kind of economic marketplace. It’s the large horizontal show trying to be everything to everybody that was losing. The concept of face-to-face marketing is not what’s dead. What’s dead is the concept of going to a large event with the attitude, ‘I’ll have some fun and maybe even find something useful while I’m there.’”
Registration numbers for the upcoming HP World 2004 conference seem to support Sell’s comments. “Contrary to other flagging industry events, our paid full-conference registration numbers for HP World 2004 are running about 10% ahead of last year,” said Evans in a statement.
HP Tech Forum Bucks the Trend
Sell also said the HP announcement bucks the trend in the computer industry toward more focused events. “Every major technology company has their own event, but not to detriment of individual, smaller shows.” He noted that software giant Microsoft has prospered with its users by adding programs for its various constituencies, rather than cutting them. Other computer and software makers, such as Sun Microsystems and SAP, also offer a variety of user events rather than one all-encompassing show.
Users Groups Say their Shows Will Go On
After further discussions, three of the four associations serving HP users have said that they plan to continue producing their own independent member-driven events. Interex, for example, is the largest of the HP user groups. It bills itself as a professional association rather than a user group, and boasts an international membership of approximately 150,000. Interex will hold the 2005 edition of HP World, the 31st edition of its annual customer solutions event, at the Moscone Center in San Francisco during the week of August 15. However, Interex expects HP to cut back its presence at that show.
The OpenView Forum International said it will also conduct its own conference again in June 2005 in Denver. It also appears that a third user group, ITUG, the former Tandem user group, plans to continue its ITUG Summit, next scheduled for October in San Jose.
The fourth group, Encompass, co-produces HP World, but has agreed to back HP’s plans and will rely on the new HP show for revenue.
In the end, says Evans, the decision to keep the smaller shows going came down to the fact that “the members of these groups cherish their independence and the advocacy efforts that benefit them, the industry and HP.”