How to Save Supercomm
If Supercomm is to resume its place as the telecom industry’s premier tradeshow and conference, the event has to be bigger and more effective than last week’s meeting in Chicago. To understand how that might be possible, however, you have to consider Supercomm’s history – not the recent history with annual changes in the name, date, and sponsorship of the show that created the limbo in which Supercomm now slowly twists, but its origins going back to 1988. (See Supercomm Reborn!, Supercomm 2009 Delayed Until October, and Supercomm Faces the Music.)
The telecom world was a very different place then. Three years after divestiture created seven regional operating companies and 22 different Bell units out of the monolith that was AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), there was ample reason for a single national tradeshow and conference to be held. For the first time, there was one Washington lobbying organization representing the telecom industry – as opposed to one for Ma Bell and one for independent telcos, which held their own regional shows scattered around the country. There were numerous vendors for whom divestiture meant the possibility of selling into Bell units that once were bound to AT&T’s own manufacturing arm. Having one massive tradeshow would give them exposure as well, and they were eager to exhibit.
Even then, however, Supercomm was not a slam-dunk success. I remember events held in places like Anaheim and Houston that were so sparsely attended they made last week’s event look healthy. Usually that happened because the local Bell company wasn’t in full support. Though no one would confirm this at the time, I always thought Supercomm landed in Atlanta for a prolonged period primarily because BellSouth did support the show and brought its people out.
Then, of course, the Internet boom hit and Supercomm soared on the energy of seemingly hundreds of startup companies, carriers and vendors alike. Since the bust, Supercomm has struggled to achieve its former relevance, for a lot of reasons:
- With all the consolidation, the telecom industry is back to a much smaller number of companies, and the biggest of those companies – AT&T and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) – hardly need a tradeshow to see vendors.
- Unlike other industry segments such as cable, telecom players compete with each other and aren’t as likely to rally together at an annual party and industry-boosting affair.
- Then there’s the wireless beast, the one consuming the access lines and taking over the board rooms of major players. Where does wireline stop and wireless start? Who cares?
There may still be need for an exhibit as well, but it needs to be more focused on emerging technologies, evolving standards, and exposure of vendors to the Tier 2, Tier 3, and even smaller telcos that don’t otherwise see all that technology.
To succeed, Supercomm has to be relevant. But it also has to directly address the needs of the population it is trying to serve and stop trying to be all things to all people, in hopes of attracting a few more warm bodies.
— Carol Wilson, Chief Editor, Events, Light Reading