COMDEX Re-Launches As A Virtual Trade Show

March 4, 2010

The virtual events industry had a lot of exciting moments over the past two years.  I believe we’ll look back upon today, however, as an one of the most important and historic moments for our industry.  Everything Channel (a UBM company) announced that they’re re-launching COMDEX as a 100% virtual trade show.

Press Release: Introducing the New COMDEX, the Next Generation in Virtual Events

During its heyday, COMDEX was the “go to” trade show in the computer and technology industry, “where all levels of manufacturers and developers of computers, peripherals, software, components and accessories came in direct contact with retailers, consultants and their competitors” (source: Wikipedia)

COMDEX was discontinued in 2004.  In 2006, UBM acquired the event assets of COMDEX via their purchase of MediaLive International Inc.  COMDEX Virtual will fit nicely in UBM’s Everything Channel business, whose objective is “accelerating technology sales” and whose publications include Channelweb and CRN.  This is very exciting news – I gave some thought to what this means to our industry.

Game Changer and Turning Point

Today’s news is nothing short of a game changer and turning point for our industry.  Virtual events have enjoyed growing adoption – initially from B2B publishers and recently from corporations.  Adoption rates have been particularly strong from the same technology vendors who used to exhibit at COMDEX.  Now, however, one of the most widely known event brands has made the move to embrace virtual.

COMDEX Virtual will be watched (and attended) closely by related event brands – its success will incent many more well-known event brands to come on board virtually.  Staying within the technology space, CES and Macworld may be encouraged to consider a hybrid model for their events, adding a virtual component to complement their in-person event.  Discontinued event brands may similarly move to re-launch as a virtual-only experience.

Confirmed: Options and Flexibility with Going Virtual

Virtual event technology afforded Everything Channel with a flexible way to bring back the COMDEX brand.  First, the costs are lower.  Second, the financial commitment around a physical event venue was avoided.  Third, a virtual event affords exhibitors with a convenient and cost-effective means to return to COMDEX.

Re-sellers and systems integrators tend to be small-to-medium sized businesses (SMB) – they operate “lean and mean” without an abundance of marketing budget.  In the past, their entire year’s marketing spend may have been put towards COMDEX.  Now, the same exhibitors can exhibit virtually and avoid the travel costs and “out of office” costs of sending their company representatives to Las Vegas – affording them remaining marketing dollars to use elsewhere.

With the flexibility afforded, COMDEX Virtual allows Everything Channel a convenient and efficient way to bring COMDEX back to life.  If the virtual event exceeds expectations, more options become available, such as a physical component to complement the virtual – creating a hybrid event after first testing the waters virtually.

Virtual Extensions

Industry observers have noted that more focused events (e.g. CES in consumer electronics and Interop in computer networking) began to steal interest away from COMDEX – many believed that it had become too broad.  Subsequent to its November 2010 launch, COMDEX Virtual may want to consider a series of smaller and more focused virtual events – around industry sectors or by specific geographies.

Additionally, virtual affords COMDEX the option of extending its presence globally – both via participation from a global audience, as well as regionalized virtual events that cater to specific regions (e.g. EMEA, Asia Pacific, etc.).  With the localization capabilities provided by virtual event platforms, attendees can choose the language in which they experience the event.

Unique, Branded Experiences

COMDEX had a unique brand – with COMDEX Virtual, there seems to be a clear desire to create a unique experience that carries unique and distinctive branding.  Put another way, COMDEX Virtual should not look like any other virtual event – it needs to stand apart.  As such, UBM Studios, a “creative and strategic marketing agency” will create original and highly engaging event areas for COMDEX Virtual, including the Grand Hall of Masters, Hospitality Suites and the CRN Test Center.

This is part of a continuing trend in our industry – the desire (and capability) of show hosts to create highly engaging and unique experiences that adhere to their branding guidelines – or, create new brand experiences.  As such, clients with the budget (or capabilities) will “in-source” the creative development and look to the virtual event platforms to “carry the payload” – providing the foundation on which the event rides, along with essential platform features and services.

Taking the game to the next level

To support the size and scale of COMDEX (virtually), event platforms will need to bring their “A game”.  If the event will house hundreds of exhibitors interacting with tens of thousands of attendees, the virtual event platform will need to deliver on performance, reliability and scalability.  In addition, useful platform features need to enable exhibitors to demonstrate their products and services.

Match-making tools should enable exhibitors to find the “right” attendees and for attendees to find and make useful business contacts.  Lastly, the platforms need to enable pervasive use of video – both on-demand video and live-streamed video.  After all, a key element of past COMDEX events was the ability to see, hear and engage (visually) with others.


The “countdown to COMDEX” is on – between now and November, I’m sure there’s plenty of work and planning to get done.  In the meantime, with today’s announcement alone, a bit of history has already been made.

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A Virtual Event For All Seasons

June 17, 2009

Scheduling of large physical events seems to follow a seasonal pattern.  With the exception of CES (Jaunuary 7-10 2010) and Macworld (February 9-13 2010), there are fewer events at the very start of a calendar year – many event planners are probably thinking that fresh off the holidays, potential attendees are less inclined to travel.

The event schedule then picks up a little steam in February and March and by spring time, we’re in full bloom.  The summer seems to get its fair share of events – but at the same time, some event planners may scale back on a summer schedule due to vacation schedules (and the fact that kids are home from school).  As we head towards the Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S., the event schedule seems to taper – and during the December holidays (Christmas, Hanukkah, etc.) there seem to be very few physical events scheduled.

Virtual events follow a similar seasonal pattern. There were virtual events in January and February of this year, but the pace seemed to pick up in March – with a build-up to June, which could be our high water mark for virtual events this year.  I maintain an informal Virtual Events Calendar, which lists 21 virtual events in June, with only 3 currently listed for July.


Do virtual events really need to follow seasonal patterns?  Here are my thoughts:

  1. Consider the convenience factors – virtual events are convenient for all parties involved (virtual event planners, exhibitors, attendees) – there are no travel arrangements to be made and no booth materials to ship.  For booth material, one can leverage existing White Papers, Product Collateral, etc. – and not have to send hundreds of documents to the color printer.  For exhibiting or attending, one can login from anywhere (in pajamas).  As such, the traditional danger zones (e.g. Thanksgiving week, Christmas week, etc.) may be less relevant for virtual.
  2. Use virtual to complement physical – would I place all my bets on a successful virtual event on December 23rd?  No.  But, I might want to floor a virtual event on December 23rd that complements another physical or virtual event.  Additionally, I may want to leverage the virtual event platform to power a business community that’s open year-round, rather than being “live” on a given date.

The key to the success of a virtual business community will be a critical mass of participants.  Live virtual events are successful because a critical mass of live attendees gather to view content and interact with one another.  If I login to an virtual community and no one else is online, it means I have no ability to interact with someone in real-time.

I’ll be able to view content and participate in message boards, blogs, etc. – but at that point, it’s no different from using a conventional social networking site.  All in all, the possibilities are very exciting.  I know that my own calendar is booked solid (virtually) through the end of the year.

Should CES And Macworld Go Virtual?

January 7, 2009

Flickr (Domain Barnyard)

Source: Flickr (Domain Barnyard)

With all due respect to the CEA (CES) and IDG World Expo (Macworld), I found it interesting that the primary discussion around CES and Macworld this week has been who and what will not be there, rather than the announcements and happenings scheduled at these venues.  Before I go further, let me state up front that I work in virtual events, so my thoughts are biased.  Now let’s review the “not there, not coming” list:

  1. Bill Gates (CES) — off pursuing his noble not-for-profit initiatives
  2. Steve Jobs (Macworld)
  3. Attendees  – lower numbers expected at both venues, compared to 2008
  4. Exhibitors – lower numbers expected at CES, compared to 2008

“Electronics trade shows change with times” is the headline of a story in today’s USA Today.  Some excerpts from this article:

Software king Adobe Systems and gadget maker Belkin dropped out of Macworld. Networking giant Cisco and Sanyo, being acquired by Panasonic, won’t be exhibiting at CES.


“I’ve surveyed my clients, and while many will be at the show, they are dramatically cutting back,” says James McQuivey, an analyst at Forrester Research. “If they had 20 people at the show last year, this year it’s just four.”

So clearly, the current economic climate is having its effect on industry events.  I do see a lot of value in the face-to-face event.  In fact, a significant aspect of CES is the brokering of partnership and business development deals between and among vendors, suppliers and retailers.  That activity is very effective “in person” and may not (yet) be well suited to online-only activity.  Another aspect of CES is the schmoozing and the wining and dining of clients and business partners.  This also cannot be replaced online, as far as I’m aware!  So I’m certainly not recommending the shuttering of CES (or Macworld).

But why not launch complementary events online?  For the product announcement angle of these events, online seems a natural fit.  In 2008, several IT vendors skipped the physical launch event and handled 100% of their product launch over the web, whether it was a Live Webinar, Live Videocast or a Virtual Tradeshow.  In an online venue, your potential audience expands, but you can still connect with your target base of customers, prospects and industry analysts.

James McQuivey of Forrester had a relevant quote in the USA Today article:

Says McQuivey, “New products get launched on blogs. There’s no reason to go through all the hassle and expense of trade shows anymore.” Apple said just that as it dropped out of Macworld, citing the reach of its own retail stores and website.

Now, let’s talk a bit about the green angle.  The same article quoted Jason Oxman from CEA:

Jason Oxman, senior vice president at the Consumer Electronics Association, which stages CES, says that even in the downturn, companies that are cutting back aren’t eliminating CES altogether. Like Cisco, they’re just eliminating the convention floor booths and opting for meeting room suites instead.

“Trade shows take on renewed importance in a down economy,” he says. “Every major consumer electronics manufacturer, buyer, installer and retailer is there. It’s the most efficient travel saver imaginable.”

I think Jason’s point is that because “everyone” attends CES, you schedule this one trip in January because you won’t need to go back to meet those same people (individually) later in the year.  While that does seem wise, I disagree on the “most efficient travel saver imaginable” quote.  To me, the most efficient travel saver is not to travel.

Hence, I could see a lot of value in a Virtual CES, where the product announcement angle of CES takes place.  The CEA could supplement their revenue stream by packaging this online opportunity with their physical event sponosorships.  I’m sure they’d draw quite a crowd online.  Exhibitors could demo their latest products from the comfort of their office (or home), be able to track all visits to their booth and have all interactions (with attendees) saved as text transcripts.  Steve Ballmer could still kick things off – but instead of in-person, you’d have him on a live video broadcast.

The uncomfortable angle to this (for the CEA) is that the flagship (physical) event may shrink significantly and be left to the deal makers, winers and diners.  On the flip side, it would cut back dramatically on carbon emissions and if done right, online would become the new flaghship.

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