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Managing Editor

Wither goest Comdex? Rumors are swirling

Nov 25, 20024 mins

The future of Comdex was a hot topic at this year’s show in large measure because organizer Key 3 Media Group announced before the event started that the company is likely to file for bankruptcy soon. With the show much smaller than in years past, the buzz got going early in the week that this could be the last Comdex.

But even before terrorist attacks increased globally and the economy tanked, the show had become smaller and less of a must-do event. On the Sunday evening before the show officially opened, a group of panelists gave journalists a glimpse of the show themes. That preview started with Fredric Rosen, the chairman and chief executive officer of Key 3 Media Group, issuing what seemed like a wrist slap to reporters, saying he’s tired of reading stories quoting officials from companies that say they aren’t attending Comdex this year when we all know those companies are in Las Vegas, even if they don’t have booths in the exhibit halls. We were, he seemed to be saying, not quite conveying the reality of the situation. Companies set up meetings with journalists and clients in suites at the huge Las Vegas hotels even if they don’t have space on the floor – IBM notable among those that haven’t exhibited for years but are around during Comdex.

Rosen will be working hard after the first of the year to try to lure those companies back to the exhibit halls, he told us, in what would seem a hint that there will be a fall Comdex next year. As one longtime show veteran (back to the late ’80s) said one night over dinner, the show is still too big and important for too many companies to simply end.

Even if Key 3 doesn’t keep it going, someone else is likely to step in and buy the show, though who that would be has yet to be seen. By week’s end, though, Las Vegas residents were fueling the flames, with one persistent rumor swirling among Hilton hotel staff and taxi drivers that Comdex and the Consumer Electronics Show will merge. Never mind that they are put on by different companies.

Then there are accounts like this one: Andy Olson , a trade show consultant with Team International Group out of Gainesville, Fla., says that GES Exposition Services, which has been the overall contractor setting up and maintaining booths at the show for years, has no contract for next year’s Comdex, and neither does anyone else. Usually, by this time of year, contractors already have contracts for next year because vendors start making arrangements for booths a year ahead of time. Olson connected us to someone who knows someone at GES who said that there isn’t a contract yet but no one can talk about that officially.

Well, officially, as it turns out GES has a two-year contract with Key3 for the Comdex show, starting this year. GES made that announcement in March of this year, well before Fall Comdex, but such details got lost along the way.

In the meantime, Key3 might be filing for bankruptcy, which is what has fanned the swirling rumors, fueled by all the talk from those someones who know someone who knows something about …

Attendees were saying that they like the smaller show because they can actually see everything they want to see and then some instead of getting lost in the maze of booths spread across the previously huge exhibition space. Numerous of them said that Comdex is the one place where they can network, get contacts, have meetings with prospective clients and see new gear. One guy who was walking the other way and got lost in the swirl of people around him opined as he passed by that the show had been “just fantastic, absolutely marvelous.”

If we hadn’t already lost so much money during Comdex week at the blackjack table – Joseph at the Sahara is a wicked good dealer, or bad depending on perspective – we’d lay down a bet that Comdex will be back. More contained, more restrained, smaller and easier to navigate.

Stephen Lawson of the IDG News Service contributed to this report.