MediaLive Postponement of COMDEX Causes Widespread Surprise and Conjecture

JOAN MATHER, EXECUTIVE EDITOR
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San Francisco -June 24 – In what Eric Faurot called a “bold move for a privately held company,” MediaLive yesterday sent shock waves through the industry by announcing that it has decided to postpone COMDEX Las Vegas 2004, set to open November 14 at the Las Vegas Convention Center. “Many companies would have made the decision to just run the show into the ground and then cash out,” says Faurot. “That’s not good for anyone.” None of the other COMDEX events are affected by this decision.

Faurot, who is Vice President and General Manager of COMDEX, says the postponement is to continue to reposition COMDEX as a focused business-to-business IT event, a process that began last year when MediaLive took over ownership of the event. The hiatus is also intended to rebuild trust, recapturing some of the major firms such as IBM, Intel and Dell, which had withdrawn from the event in 1997 claiming that the show lacked focus, and they had difficulty determining ROI.

Since its high of over one million square feet of exhibit space, COMDEX has declined substantially. Last year it featured about 550 exhibitors and drew roughly 40,000 attendees. Faurot claims sales are not down for this year, and it would have been possible to stage a profitable event, but that it wouldn’t have been beneficial to either the industry or the brand. “We need to get broader support from the leading information technology companies, including the presence of the leading strategic companies on the show floor,” Faurot says. “We can’t just have 500 computer companies there.”

Rapid Industry Reaction

Industry reaction was swift and intense. A number of industry members who had been affiliated with COMDEX over the years weighed in with their views on what the postponement actually meant.  Perhaps the most pointed comment came from one source who indicated that the postponement didn’t spell the end of trade shows. His concern was that corporate marketing directors who viewed COMDEX as the “poster child for trade shows” and the epitome of a successful show would believe that trade shows are now passé.

A conjecture was that the postponement actually meant the demise of show. A long-time industry veteran and former COMDEX executive said that most shows don’t recover from a postponement and that COMDEX is now history. Faurot denies this vehemently. He says that MediaLive created an Advisory Board of leading show exhibitors, and the postponement gives them time to help redesign COMDEX to meet their needs. Intel and Dell have agreed to join the board, along with executives from EMC, Microsoft Corp., Oracle Corp., Cisco and Samsung Electronics. Others, including IBM, have been invited to join.

What About the Contract with LVCC?

Faurot says that he is not yet certain whether MediaLive will have to pay a cancellation penalty to LVCC, since the postponement decision was taken just a week ago. “We are currently in discussions with LVCC to determine how this can be worked out,” he says. He adds MediaLive has a multi-year contract with LVCC and that COMDEX Las Vegas 2005 is scheduled for November 13-17.

Not surprisingly, rumors abound that LVCC will withdraw the 2005 dates and that the show, if held, will be at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, joining MediaLive’s Networld+Interop, which will move into the hotel’s convention center for the May 2005 show.

Calls to the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority (LVCVA) determined that executives were in a series of meetings to discuss the ramifications of the postponement and how it would proceed with booking future dates. No decision has been made at this point.

An Acquisition

A few weeks earlier, MediaLive announced the acquisition of WingateWeb LLC, an event software developer. Products include software for registration, conference and content management, event logistics and on-site services. Faurot says, “We’re incredibly pleased with the WingateWeb acquisition, because it shows we’re committed to using technology to take trade shows to the next level. The acquisition will enable us to offer complete event solutions that significantly improve the customer experience at COMDEX.”

Faurot who previously spent 10 years with Miller Freeman, ending as a Vice President of the CMP acquisition, says this experience enabled him to see many different kinds of industries and their need for an annual gathering of some sort. “That convinced me to take this position and help turn COMDEX around. Fundamentally, I believe that the $915 billion IT industry needs an annual gathering, and that is COMDEX.”

Reach Eric Faurot, Vice President and General Manager, COMDEX, MediaLive International, at (415) 905-2300; eric.faurot@mlii.com.