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From Comdex to OMS, virtual events take off

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Virtual events are gaining momentum among event producers and industry associations, led by the virtual return of one of the largest trade shows of all time—United Business Media's Comdex. Comdex, staged from 1979 to 2003, attracted more than 200,000 attendees at its peak but was discontinued following the tech industry crash. It's scheduled to return Nov. 16-17 as ComdexVirtual. The virtual event will be far smaller than the physical one in terms of attendees—at press time about 11,000 attendees were registered. But it will offer essentially a full trade show experience, with a virtual exhibit hall, more than 40 content sessions, networking and sponsorship opportunities. “We are taking Comdex back to its roots—a computer dealer expo, focused on the high-tech sales channel for an IT audience,” said Bob Faletra, CEO of UBM's Everything Channel unit. UBM acquired the assets of Comdex after the show fell into bankruptcy in 2003. “Comdex is a well-known brand. It was dormant for a number of years; but people recognize it, and this is a great example of the proven point that brands matter.” UBM has signed up premier tech sponsors for the event, including Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp., Intel Corp., Microsoft Corp. and Oracle. Altogether, ComdexVirtual will have about 30 booths in its virtual exhibit hall, as well as hospitality suites for private meetings and a VAR Bar for networking among value-added resellers and other attendees. The event will also feature keynotes by leading IT executives, such as Intel CEO Paul Otellini, Juniper Networks CEO Kevin Johnson and high-tech investor and entrepreneur Mark Cuban, who is president of the Dallas Mavericks of the NBA. Everything Channel worked with UBM Studios, a division of UBM that creates virtual environments, using the INEXPO technology platform. “UBM is very focused on virtual. We think we can be the leader in virtual events,” Faletra said. “It is still an evolving technology, and the business models will change. We don't see it replacing or taking away from face-to-face, but it's a good model and we do a fair amount of revenue.” This year, UBM will produce more than 100 virtual events—comprising virtual trade shows, webcasts and virtual meetings for clients—up from 39 last year. UBM includes virtual events in its data services and online business, which generated $297.5 million for the first nine months of the year, up 6.2% from the year-earlier period. (UBM does not break out revenue for virtual events.) While ComdexVirtual is probably the best example of a purely virtual trade show, other event producers and associations, such as the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE), American Marketing Association (AMA) and Online Marketing Summit (OMS) have recently launched virtual events. For example, ASAE debuted its first virtual event in August as a companion to its annual meeting in Los Angeles. The physical show, held at the Los Angeles Convention Center, attracted about 5,000 attendees, and the virtual show drew several hundred. “Since we are an association of association executives, we wanted to take a very serious look at where this technology is going and provide a living case study to our membership,” said Tammy Blosil, VP-online learning at ASAE. The virtual show featured 24 content sessions, which were broadcast live over the Internet with opportunities for online chat and interaction with the physical show (such as submitting online questions that were asked in Q&A sessions during the physical show). The virtual event did not feature an exhibit hall as the physical show did, but ASAE is exploring this option for next year, Blosil said. Meanwhile, more marketing conferences are introducing virtual shows to complement their existing programs. Last week, the AMA and OMS hosted separate virtual events focused on social media. OMS, which produces face-to-face events around the country, hosted a Social Media Virtual Summit on Nov. 2, featuring online content sessions, a virtual exhibit hall and networking sessions for attendees. On Nov. 4, AMA—which is rolling out several virtual events—held a virtual event called Cracking the Code: Advanced Social Media Strategies. It included keynotes, panel discussions and an AMA members-only chat lounge.
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