Rumors of Comdex's pending demise run rampant

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Las Vegas--The buzz at this year’s Comdex trade show centered on one question: Is Comdex dead?

“That’s ridiculous!” said Michael D. Millikin, senior VP of Comdex, which is ownded by Key3 Media Corp. “You can look at the floor and see it isn’t going to be the last Comdex,” he said waving toward the crowded show floor.

More likely is that Comdex will have its fifth owner in 11 years. Among the rumored buyers are Sheldon Adelson, Comdex’s founder and current owner of the Venetian Hotel and Sands Convention Center in Las Vegas, Gartner Inc., Advanstar Communications and Deutsche Messe AG, the large German trade show organizer that operates the CeBIT shows.

Millikin wouldn’t comment on the rumors, but said he’s heard them all. “I heard one yesterday that we were going to announce bankruptcy tomorrow and shut down the show, and that Jason (Chudnofsky, Key3’s president) would be taking it over.” Millikin said Key3 would only declare bankruptcy as part of a change of ownership.

The buzz began after Key3’s 10-Q filling with the Securities and Exchange Commission last week, a 55-page document in which the company outlined its debt issues and said it would seek new ownership. Millikin said he thinks people are confusing Key3’s debt issues with Comdex’s future.

“People need to separate Comdex from the capitalization of Key3,” Millikin said. He acknowledged that the 10-Q filing has slowed down some contract talks with exhibitors, but he said a number of contracts for next year had already been closed.

Comdex exhibitors this year took up 500,000 square feet, down from more than 1.2 million square feet at the show’s height. The stated attendance for this year's show was 125,000, though it appeared to attendees to be much lower. However, Millikin said the event remains strongly profitable.

Harriet Donnelly, president of Technovative Marketing Inc., said that exhibiting at Comdex has lost its effectiveness for many technology companies, especially small ones.

But Pablo Salomon, CEO of Interactive Networks Inc., a tiny software startup, said he has already found the show worthwhile.

Segway L.L.C. was also at Comdex as a late entrant and drew long lines for rides on its human transporters. “This is a great show for us--there are a lot of early adopters here,” said Anne Houle, Segway’s events manager. Houle said Segway’s only issue with coming to Comdex was making sure it could commit enough people and resources. It sent 20 of its 120 employees here.

Segway’s pay-off was evident. Some 700 people came through its space on both Monday and Tuesday. George Muller, the company’s president, said a number of business users had stopped by.

Among the big companies exhibiting at the show was Hewlett-Packard Co. “We’re here, and we had the opportunity to revisit coming to this show,” said Allison Johnson, HP's senior VP of global brand and communications. Johnson cited Comdex's importance to many of HP’s business customers, and the visibility it gains at the show.

Comdex even drew actor Kevin Spacey, who announced his new Web site, For a dead show, Comdex still seems to have some life in it.

--Michael Fitzgerald

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