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Chris Jones

Comdex Another No-Show

29 March 2005

LAS VEGAS -- Its future already shrouded in doubt, Las Vegas' Comdex trade show is one step closer to oblivion after its organizers recently decided to cancel this November's scheduled event for a second consecutive year.

And while MediaLive International said Monday it hopes to relaunch Comdex at the Las Vegas Convention Center in 2006, the long-running technology showcase could be forced from its 25-year home, an executive with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority said.

About two weeks ago, San Francisco-based MediaLive International quietly canceled this year's Comdex Las Vegas after it failed to attract a sufficient number of large exhibitors. Instead, the company will spend the third week of November hosting a scaled-down Comdex in Athens, Greece.

"We wanted to do what was best for the industry, and based on the number of exhibitors we had this year, it just wasn't able to be done," MediaLive public relations manager Ben Stricker said. "We just didn't have the number we thought was right, so unfortunately we decided to pull the plug rather than do something halfway."

Stricker's comments closely resembled last summer's notice that Comdex 2004 would not take place at the Las Vegas Convention Center, where it had been held annually since 1979.

"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," Robert Priest-Heck, president and chief executive officer of MediaLive, said in June. "We thought it best to postpone this year's show."

Stricker said this year's decision -- which he also described as a "postponement" -- was not officially announced, though registered exhibitors and attendees have been informed over the past few days. Outside of a calendar that listed November's conflicting Athens show, a MediaLive Web site on Monday offered no indication Comdex would not return to Southern Nevada in the fall.

Instead, listed the results of a third-party survey conducted in September that showed 53 percent of the nearly 3,500 information technology professionals polled want their industry's annual gathering to remain in Las Vegas. Chicago ranked a distant second with at 8 percent.

Stricker said many attendees and smaller exhibitors expressed disappointment over MediaLive's recent decision.

"The attendees screamed bloody murder. ... They defi nitely wanted us to be there," he said. "Some of the bigger folks weren't as willing to come back, so the decision was based on that."

Stricker declined to name which exhibitors backed out, though his company hopes to woo them back to their former Las Vegas digs in fall 2006.

Not so fast, said Chris Meyer, the convention authority's convention sales director. As of Monday afternoon, he said MediaLive still had not informed his organization of its plans to again postpone.

"I wish they'd told us," he said.

And should MediaLive hope to return next year, it will likely have to wait for available space.

"We actually have a show that we're moving next year into those (former Comdex) dates out of some September dates," said Meyer, whose organization owns and operates the Las Vegas Convention Center. "When they changed to tentative, that allowed us to sell into their space. And that's what we've been doing."

Meyer added MediaLive last year paid cancellation fees for Comdex 2004 and 2005, and forfeited its rights to the Las Vegas Convention Center in 2006 and 2007. Still, he said that until Monday the authority remained under the impression his venue's longtime business partner would be coming back.

"They had always intimated to us that they were going to floor a show in 2005," Meyer said. "Now their status (in 2006) would be just like anybody else looking for space in the Las Vegas Convention Center.

"They would have to ask, 'Hey, do you have dates available?'"

MediaLive also plans to proceed with its plans to stage another Las Vegas technology showcase, NetWorld+Interop, at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center May 1-6.

Las Vegas Sands Chairman Sheldon Adelson created Comdex and oversaw much of its growth before he completed an $862 million deal in April 1995 to sell the show and several other events to Tokyo-based Softbank Corp. It later spun off Comdex and other trade shows to form Key3Media, which was renamed MediaLive International after it emerged from bankruptcy protection in 2003 as a privately held company.

The local economy for years benefited from the money spent by Comdex attendees, but many local businesses frowned at the show's heavy traffic and gaming-averse patrons.

Comdex peaked in 1998, when an estimated 220,000-plus delegates had an estimated nongaming economic impact of $341 million.

Attendance fell dramatically in recent years, however, and only 51,000 delegates were reported in 2003, adding $69.5 million to the local economy.