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Thursday, June 24, 2004 - Page updated at 01:25 A.M.
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Comdex event canceled for '04

By Brier Dudley
Seattle Times technology reporter

KEVORK DJANSEZIAN / AP, 1997
The Microsoft pavilion has always been a big presence at Comdex in Las Vegas. The show won't be held this fall, but organizers hope it will return in 2005.
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Citing a lack of support by key players in the industry, Comdex organizers yesterday canceled the fabled technology exposition, leaving thousands of geeks with a gaping hole in their fall calendar this year.

A large portion of the computer industry made an annual pilgrimage to Las Vegas every November for the show.

Microsoft, for years Comdex's largest presence, wants organizers to resume the show in 2005, but several observers said it's a stumbling dinosaur that needs an extreme makeover if it's going to survive.

Started in 1979 as the Computer Dealers Exposition, Comdex blossomed as the industry surged in the 1990s. It became an event where you could see the next big thing in technology on the crowded exhibition floor, meet the inventor at a garish party and place an order with the company president the next day in his hotel suite.

But the show lost its way after peaking with 200,000 attendees in 2000. Technology spending fell, crowds thinned and last year the company running Comdex went bankrupt.

A group of investors bought the assets and held the show last November but only about 40,000 people attended.

Rather than have a weak show this year, organizer MediaLine International decided to take a year to regroup. It's planning a business-oriented show in November 2005, said Eric Faurot, vice president and Comdex general manager.

"We definitely could have run a profitable event (this year), but we didn't think it would benefit the industry or the Comdex brand without broader support," he said.

Faurot noted that the information-technology industry underwent a massive contraction.

"Although IT spending is finally on the rebound this year, the marketing budgets for '04 were set in '03," he said.

Among the diehards was Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, who has delivered a keynote speech every year since 1983. His father even came to help with the slide projector at the first show.
 
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Gates' annual opening-night speech became a highlight of the show, and a chance for him to share his vision for the industry.

"Microsoft was clearly their anchor, but too much of their anchor," said Rob Enderle, a Santa Clara, Calif.-based industry analyst on the Comdex advisory board.

With other major industry players dropping out of the show, Microsoft last year dominated the exhibition show floor.

Enderle said the show started losing its way in the mid-1990s after IBM pulled out. By 2003 Dell was the last major computer maker to participate, and this year it had yet to confirm its presence, Enderle said.

One problem was that Comdex tried to expand beyond information technology to consumer products, the territory of its flashier Vegas cousin, the Consumer Electronics Show held in January.

"By focusing so much on the consumer stuff, they lost the IT folks," he said.

Consumer-electronics companies don't want to show their future products at a show in November, when their current products are on the shelf waiting for holiday buyers, Enderle said.

MediaLine tapped a handful of companies, including Microsoft, for advice on the show's future.

Microsoft's participation in indicates its desire to see the show resume in 2005, said spokesman Tom Pilla.

"Comdex has been an important show for us and the industry for many years," Pilla said. "At the same time, though, there are other shows we also value, actually hundreds of shows throughout the year Microsoft participates in."

"We've all been watching Comdex dwindle," said Mark Anderson, a Friday Harbor technology commentator who now has an annual show of his own.

"I think their business model broke. The trend in the United States today is toward more specialized shows and more take-home for those who attend."

Brier Dudley: 206-515-5687 or bdudley@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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