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One of the running jokes in media circles these days is that the only people making money from interactive technologies are the ones organizing all the conferences.

It's true that scores of interactive conventions and trade shows have flooded the country in the past year. But this week's New Media Expo in Los Angeles is quickly emerging from the pack.

At press time, more than 18,000 people and 150 exhibitors had registered to attend the inaugural three-day conference, making it "by far" the largest interactive show to date, organizers claim.

"It's the first event on new media that's bringing in substantial numbers of people from a wide cross section of industries," said Peter Shaw, VP at the Interface Group, the Needham, Mass.-based producer of the conference. "It's not an insider's show. It is a commercially oriented event looking at how people are going to develop a business around new media."

The Interface Group also organizes the enormously successful Comdex computer shows. And if the growth of interactive media in the next decade mirrors that of the computer industry, New Media Expo could grow to 10 times its current size. Comdex/Fall marked its 15th anniversary last year with some 180,000 attendees; the first show drew just 4,000.

"My sense is that there are 1,000 [interactive] shows, and most of them are trying to make a quick buck and won't be around next year," said Mark Stahlman, president of consultancy New Media Associates, New York. "The difference here is that these are the people who created Comdex and stuck with it and wound up with the largest computer show in the world."

Mr. Stahlman is moderating a conference panel on privacy and freedom.

The list of New Media Expo attendees mirrors the convergence of media, including a broad range of executives from broadcast and cable TV networks, phone companies, Hollywood studios, ad agencies and cutting-edge technology companies.

Advertising Age will announce the winners of its first Interactive Advertising & Media Awards at an April 12 ceremony at the conference. Awards will be given in nine categories, including informational online advertising; informational CD-ROM; interactive telephone; and interactive TV. Ad Age is also sponsoring a full-day tutorial in interactive media.

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