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The Incredible Shrinking U.S. Telecom Sector

Effects of the systematic consolidation within the traditional U.S. telecom and broadcast media sector are now very apparent as trade-show organizers continue their struggle to aggregate enough registered attendees to make their events seem worthwhile.

As an acknowledgment of this phenomenon, NXTcomm Executive Director Wayne Crawford released the following statement in an attempt to put a positive spin on the NXTcomm 2007 conference and exhibition final attendance audit.

"NXTcomm, a major event organized in less than five months and designed to serve as the one show that would unify the converged information, communications and entertainment technology industry, attracted 15,273 attendees to its debut at Chicago's McCormick Place on June 18-21. Some 500 NXTcomm exhibitors occupied more than 200,000 net square feet of exhibit space, and nearly 450 members of the press/analyst community reported on the show."

However, upon a closer examination of the registered "attendees" I learned that the total number of verified exhibitors, non-exhibiting sponsors and their support staff was greater than 6,200 people -- more than 40 percent of the overall attendance.

This would help to explain why event exhibitors are having difficulty rationalizing their return on investment. Clearly, many of these type of trade events are in a downward spiral, but unfortunately the telecom sector may be leading the pack.

The event has been renamed several times, and combined with other related events, in the hope of injecting new life into the consistently shrinking proceedings and associated attendance. The once prolific conference and exhibition was previously called SUPERCOMM, and then renamed to GLOBALCOMM.

In 2005, as an example, the original nearly twenty year-old SUPERCOMM trade-show had double the attendance of the 2007 combined telecom association event. Apparently, the NXTcomm organizers -- invigorated with a new dedicated marketing and sales team -- had hoped the aggregated members of the two legacy industry associations would help to draw more than twenty thousand attendees this year.

Meanwhile, reports of exhibitor frustration with dwindling attendance have surfaced repeatedly. The likely cause: as smaller upstart telecom service provider competitors were progressively forced out of the industry by the predatory practices of the larger consolidated players, there have been way too many equipment vendors chasing far too few network infrastructure investments.

NXTcomm comes to the Las Vegas Convention Center, June 16-19, 2008, and will co-locate with InfoComm -- in yet another attempt to combine multiple audiences, with the intent to boost attendance results. That said, even the most skillful gambler would likely wish the event organizers all the luck in the world.

For sure, the odds of success with this one metric are not in their favor, given this historical trend. Therefore, perhaps they should move beyond delivering mere attendees to exhibitors, and instead focus more on truly engaging participants -- who can imagine themselves actively contributing to the invention of an uncertain future.

In contrast, the typical executive keynote speakers of today leave the podium satisfied that everyone's vested interests are safe, for at least another year. I miss the provocative competitors like Bill McGowan, CEO of MCI, whose bravado would send shivers down the tender spines of those Bell system executives -- who were otherwise blissful in their perpetual status quo.

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