This year's Comdex event has been cancelled, with one leading analyst alleging this is down to mismanagement, and another saying the show will never take place again.

Comdex organizer is MediaLive International, whose president and chief executive Robert Priest-Heck said: "While we could still run a profitable Comdex this year it does not benefit the industry to do so without broader support of the leading technology companies."

However, Enderle Group analyst Rob Enderle said: "The cancellation has more to do with the mismanagement of Comdex than a poor IT marketplace Comdex was badly managed over the past half decade. The cancellation was the result of mismanagement, poor marketing and a lack of focus."

MediaLive said the show is "postponed" rather than cancelled, while an advisory board looks at how to redesign Comdex to make it more appealing. But it also said in its statement that the next Comdex will take place in November 2005, suggesting that this year's event won't happen at all.

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.

Attendance at Comdex had been in decline since the Internet bubble burst, from about 200,000 in 2000 to 125,000 in 2003. Many attendees said the show had grown too big and unfocused, and a rival Las Vegas event, January's Consumer Electronics Show, became the place to be for high-tech vendors.

MediaLive tried to reinvent Comdex last year as a smaller, more focused gathering purely for enterprise IT buyers. But it attracted only 40,000 attendees, about 20 per cent short of its target. Siebel System, Microsoft and Computer Associates all had prominent booths, and Dell was back at the show for the first time in several years. But many of the big enterprise vendors, such as Oracle, SAP AG, HP and BEA Systems, had little or no presence at last year's event.

MediaLive said it has established an advisory board to figure out how to rebuild the event. The board includes representatives from Microsoft, Intel, Advanced Micro Devices, Oracle, EMC, Borland Software, Cisco Systems, Dell and others, the company said.

"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," he said. The board has executives from IT industry heavyweights including Microsoft Corp., Oracle Corp., EMC Corp. and Advanced Micro Devices Inc.

The good old days
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 center. 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" who stopped attending in 1998, he said.

Moreover, in today's highly competitive environment sellers can no longer wait for Comdex to make a splashy product introduction. "If the product's ready for market, you've got to introduce it," Olson said. "Sellers either go on a road show or to regional shows to launch their products."

Faced with increasing competition from the Consumer Electronics Show held every January in Las Vegas, Comdex tried to embrace the consumer electronics market. Because of that, the show headed off on the wrong course, Enderle said. "They shouldn't have jumped into consumer electronics, it almost killed the show," he said.

Comdex may still have some life left in it, he said. This year, MediaLive was faced with producing a marginal show or calling it off altogether, and it chose the latter course, he said. If it starts afresh and displays new and emerging technologies such as video conferencing that could hit the marketplace in a few years, that could greatly expand its potential audience, he said.

"Since MediaLive emerged from bankruptcy in July 2003, its aim has been to bring trust back to the Comdex brand", said Faurot. "We took over management of Comdex a year ago and built a team that knew this market. The new team has put more focus on qualifying the audience of buyers and sellers. All of the key vendors believe we're doing the right thing."

Comdex's cancellation this year does not reflect the state of the IT industry, analysts said. Worldwide IT spending is expected to grow 5 per cent this year, driven by an improving global economy, according to a recent IDC report.

"I don't take the state of the IT industry (to be) the reason why Comdex was cancelled. Yes, we have a dip, but there is still lots of spending in many marketplaces," Olson said. Shows by Gartner and Meta Group have been oversubscribed, and shows such as CES, Networld+Interop, and Cebit in Germany are registering growing audiences, according to the analysts.

"Other Comdex events around the world, including shows in Korea, Scandinavia, Saudi Arabia, Brazil and Greece, will go ahead as planned", the company said.