I just got back from CEDIA EXPO 2009 in Atlanta, and man are my legs tired.
All hype aside, it was a relatively good show. There was plenty to talk about from a product news standpoint and most exhibitors, with their lowered expectations, were happy with their quality over quantity experience with attendees. It seemed that rather than fielding sometimes elementary questions from trunkslammers and junior-level installers roaming in packs, most exhibitors were able to spend quality time with industry veterans and key decision makers who visited their booths.
Amazingly, CEDIA reported a 20,000-person turnout, with only a 12 percent decrease in individual attendance. The general feeling in the main hall was that the show was busy and CEDIA confirmed that 50 percent of attendees were key decision makers in ESC firms. Unfortunately, the "auxiliary" Hall B (the infamous "Island of Misfit Toys," I heard from one exhibitor there, or the "(Ray?) Lepper's Colony" from another) wasn't as full of exhibitors nor attendees as Hall C. Fortunately a cell phone signal extender firm was handing out free full-size basketballs at its booth and SnapAV hosted a money grab booth, which created a buzz and a little more foot traffic.
As a member of the industry, I was pleased that the show was generally considered a success. Yes, attendance was down overall, and especially in the classrooms, but business was conducted and new technologies were successfully introduced to the channel. This was despite the overall vibe from exhibitors and attendees alike that Atlanta was the least popular host city since New Orleans in 1998 (remember the hurricane?) This almost universal distain for our host city was mostly due to inhospitable walking distances, a poorly designed Georgia World Congress Center, and southern humidity (though the hospitality was just fine). There was no escaping the consensus of the EXPO masses, when Electronic Lifestyles banquet MC Evan McBroom's "see you next year back in Atlanta!" closing remarks were greeted with groans and some boos on Saturday night. The reaction wasn't lost on CEDIA CEO Utz Baldwin, who told me on Sunday that he and his board will be ironing out as many kinks as they can before next year's show, in an effort to make the show more walkable, especially.
I wasn’t exaggerating a few months ago when I wrote about how much Atlanta had improved as a convention city. However, I greatly under-estimated how much the size of the GWCC and the lack of pedestrian-friendliness in the downtown area would take its toll of even the most optimistic among us. I still argue that Atlanta has a lot to offer, if you do your homework before you come and bring your walking shoes. It's not the scary place that some people make it out to be (including Atlanta cab drivers and residents) and there are a lot of great restaurants when you know where to find them. The first year (since 1997) for any host city is always a challenge for attendees and exhibitors, and I'm sure we'll all come more well prepared next year.
Now about that rumor that Denver wants CEDIA back. It's true, but no decisions have been made yet about EXPO's "opt out" third year in Atlanta in 2011. Next year is definitely set for the ATL, but then we MIGHT be back in Denver in three years, if either the show contracts enough to fit into a smaller exhibit hall again or exhibitors collectively agree to downsize their booths. Many are quick to forget that EXPO was bursting at the seams in the Mile-High City, just as it was in Indy. I'd love to go back to the conveniences of Denver, myself, but sometimes growing up means dealing with new hassles and a extra inconveniences.