Comdex trade fair in virtual comeback

Comdex, the defining trade show of the personal computer industry in the 1980s and 1990s, is being revived as an online-only event, providing a high-profile boost to the emerging virtual events business.

The Computer Dealer’s Exhibition, launched in 1979, became an annual November fixture, featuring keynote speeches from Bill Gates and his peers, but was closed down after the dotcom bust.

United Business Media, the UK group that bought the brand for $1 in 2006, will announce on Thursday that Comdex will return, not in Las Vegas as before but online.

Delegates’ avatars will circulate around virtual exhibition halls, picking up digital brochures from exhibitors’ digital booths, watching webcasts and webinars and exchanging electronic business cards.

UBM’s move comes as event organisers look to new technology to replicate the generation of leads and networking elements of traditional trade shows.

Pressure on travel budgets has weighed on attendance numbers and strengthened the case for virtual events – which delegates attend from their computers – particularly for small and mid-sized trade shows.

Virtual events could not yet replace the largest events, said David Levin, chief executive of UBM, but “we’re doing careers fairs, virtual labs, partner meetings, in-company meetings, town halls and classic trade fairs this way”.

UBM had spent four years deciding what to do with the Comdex brand, he said, but now felt it knew enough virtual events to make a success of an online version. It has run 63 virtual events in the past two years, the biggest of them attracting 5,000 people, and expects to stage more than 100 in 2010.

Comdex lost ground to CES, a consumer electronics-based show, and Interop, an IT-focused event, after it broadened from its original focus on computer dealers. “It was a huge horizontal trade show and it became everything to everybody – B2B, B2C, mobile and non-mobile,” Mr Levin said.

The virtual Comdex will again target a narrower group of dealers, resellers and systems integrators. Mr Levin said he did not have a target for how many visitors and exhibitors to expect, but was confident it would exceed the 3,904 people and 167 exhibitors who attended the first Comdex in 1979.

Virtual events typically replicate the business model of classic trade shows, with vendors and exhibitors paying the organisers, although in some events attendees also pay.

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