• United States
Peter Sayer
Senior Editor

Cebit faces competition from consumer shows

Dec 01, 20054 mins
Cisco SystemsData Center

Despite signs that some of Cebit’s biggest exhibitors are deserting it, the world’s largest professional IT and electronics trade show will still grow in 2006, the organizers said.

Cebit, held each March in Hanover, Germany, drew 474,082 visitors this year, and its 6,246 exhibitors occupied 307,708 square meters of floor space. Next year, it will attract 6,350 exhibitors and fill 312,500 square meters of space, Sven Prüser, senior vice president of the show’s organizer, Deutsche Messe, predicted Wednesday.

Yet the defection of Dutch manufacturer Philips Electronics to a rival trade show this year, and recent decisions by Sony and German mobile phone operator E-Plus Mobilfunk not to attend Cebit in 2006, have prompted speculation that the show is in trouble.

This speculation was further fuelled by reports Thursday that networking vendor Cisco is also pulling out of the show.

Those reports, at least, proved premature: Although Cisco’s business-to-business division won’t be at Cebit next year, its place will be taken by the company’s consumer division, Linksys, which will have its own stand at the show for the first time since being acquired by Cisco, a source close to the company said. This year, Linksys exhibited in a corner of the Cisco booth.

Cisco’s change of heart raises a question the show’s organizers seem reluctant to answer: Do consumer electronics products belong in a show for IT professionals?

For a while in the late 1990s, Deutsche Messe tried to separate out the consumer products, creating another show later in the year called Cebit Home. The experiment was short-lived, though, and consumer products were soon folded back into the main show.

Now it is trying separation again. Next year Hall 27 will contain a special “Digital Living” consumer electronics exhibition. Although on the same site, it won’t be part of Cebit.

“Hall 27 will be technically and legally completely separated,” Prüser said. In this separate area, manufacturers of televisions and audiovisual equipment will be invited to demonstrate their latest products to an audience of consumers, retailers and distributors.

Other consumer electronics devices will be welcome in the main show as long as they appeal to a professional audience: A plasma display screen is the same device whether used for a business presentation or in a bedroom or living room, Prüser said.

Gadgets such as mobile phones or digital music players may also appeal to retailers who sell to both consumers and small businesses, according to Prüser: “It’s a form of convergence,” he said.

The show’s attempts to make everyone happy seem to have backfired in some cases.

Consumer electronics manufacturer Sony will not attend the show in 2006, and the company’s plans for future years remain undecided, the managing director of Sony Deutschland, Manfred Gerdes, announced in late October. Cebit no longer meets the needs of Sony as a platform for reaching its customers, he said.

Philips’ consumer electronics division is looking for a different kind of platform too. Although the company has had a strong presence at Cebit in the past, it didn’t exhibit there this year, turning instead to IFA, the International Funkausstellung, a consumer electronics trade show in Berlin.

“We have decided to focus our resources on IFA,” said Philips spokeswoman Nanda Huizing. The company will also exhibit at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in January, she said.

“You don’t need big platforms. IFA and CES, plus events we create ourselves, are enough to make a platform,” she said.

Mobile operator E-Plus used to spend between €1 million ($1.18 million) and €10 million on its presence at Cebit — usually nearer the top of that range, according to company spokesman Jörg Carsten Müller. But next year it will devote those resources to more direct marketing techniques that bring it closer to its customers, he said.

The company’s withdrawal from Cebit is no criticism of the show, he said. For a company that now innovates more in tariffing than in technology, it makes no sense for E-plus to attend technology trade shows, and so the company probably won’t be going to IFA or Systems (held in Munich) either, he said.

“We believe that Cebit is still the leading trade show for IT — and consumer electronics — in Germany, and maybe in the world,” Müller said.

Praise indeed — and in Müller’s view, consumer electronics are definitely in, even if E-Plus is out.