Posted by Matt Egan 10 March 2014
CeBIT is dead. Long live CeBIT
I'm never going to CeBIT ever again. But that may not be bad news for the show organisers (or the Hanoverian baby in whose cot I once had to sleep).
CeBIT used to be inked into the calendar of every consumer tech journalist. Yes this was in part because if you didn't book accommodation far enough in advance you'd end up (as I once did) sharing a water bed with a colleague. And yes because the start of CeBIT meant the start of spring as you flew out of the UK, and the start of a new ice age as you landed in Germany. But mainly because it mattered. CeBIT was the only annual computer show worth visiting that was within a shorthaul flight.
I can't remember exactly how many times I went, but it was a few. Enough at least to know my way around Hanover and the world's largest exhibition centre. Long enough for me to know how to find the Irish bar in town, and to know that the one good restaurant in down-town Hanover is not the one everyone recommends. And, yes, long enough to top off the waterbed year with the years my flat in 'Hanover' was in fact 100km away in Hamburg, and the time I had to sleep for three nights in a baby's cot. (The baby wasn't present.) For more first-world moaning, see 'Why I hate MWC'.
That is no longer the case. Thankfully. This year we've sent out our pool reporters to cover CeBIT for general tech news, but the days are long gone when PC Advisor or Macworld would send a team of editors to cover CeBIT. There are reasons for this both good and bad. And, indeed, this year CeBIT is undergoing something of a revival. So...
Why CeBIT died
CeBIT became less interesting for PC Advisor and Macworld because the world got smaller, the media got faster and tech went mainstream. Already this year we have covered CES and MWC. Both are relative newcomers to the tech event scene, and both cover areas that wouldn't traditionally have been considered either 'PC' or 'Mac'.
But computers are now consumer goods, smartphones and tablets are computers. Everyone cares about tablets, laptops, TV, smartphones, and they all feature heavily at CES and MWC.
Not only do we not need a show that is strictly about computers, we actively avoid being pigeon-holed that way. PC Advisor offers advice on personal computing devices. Macworld offers expert tech advice to users of Apple products. We're in the consumer tech game now, as are all the readers.
Crucially, those shows happen earlier in the year than does CeBIT. So the relevant new products, and products that are in development, have often already been shown at CES *and* MWC by the time CeBIT comes along. And this is where the size of the world and the speed of the net makes a difference.
When we were in the business of making print magazines, there wasn't such a rush to get the latest information. When you publish only once a month you can wait for a US contributor to write about a product seen at CES. Or just miss out one mag and get the words and pictures at CeBIT in time for the next issue.
Now we publish every hour of every day that's no longer an option. You don't have to be the first, but we certainly couldn't wait even a day to write about the Galaxy S5 after it launched at MWC.
Fortunately traveling to multiple shows is no longer quite the trial it once was. Global travel is much cheaper and less time-consuming than it used to be, and so we can go to Vegas in January and cover CES mob handed. Once we may have waited until CeBIT to see the same kit launched or annuounced 10 weeks before in the States. (See also 10 trends and products from CES 2014 that are cool, weird, stupid and What is the internet of stuff?)
Why CeBIT lives on
All of which explains why CeBIT is no longer so important for PC Advisor and Macworld. But don't believe the stories you'll read about CeBIT being on the downward slope to oblivion. There's life in the old dog yet.
This year around 3,500 exhibitors from 70 countries will be at the messe. Around 300,000 people will visit. It's not quite the 800,000 of the show's peak in the 90s, but it's not to be snipped at. And some of those attendees are world leaders.
The low point for CeBIT came in 2007 (I know, I was there), when 'only' 200,000 visitors attended the show. CeBIT has bounced back, in part by setting its sights lower. (In 2007 one of the most striking things was the multiple halls that were only a quarter full. The following year they just didn't open as many halls.)
But CeBIT's main response to the consumerisation of tech squeezing its traditional market has been simple and effective. It now bills itself as 'New Perspectives in IT Business'. It is focused on a string of high-profile keynote sessions from world leaders and corporate execs. The flavour of the show is understanding- and discussing B2B tech trends. As such it is sufficiently different to other shows that South By South West can be on right now without it really impinging on CeBIT's territory.
(It's also wonderfully German. This is a nation that likes its tech information to be technical and sober. You see a lot of print magazines about tech in Germany, and very few of them contain photos.)
Rather than attempting to compete with the likes of CES or MWC - or even Computex with its focus on components - CeBIT has retrenched into the world of computing in business. As such it has saved itself a specialist and technical niche. A niche that is potentially more lucrative than are those consumer-tech harlots (B2B media is more valuable because (a) it's harder to attract an audience and (b) a single sale of a server generates a lot more profit than does a single sale of a smartphone).
It should mean that CeBIT has a bright future. More importantly it should mean that I never again have to pound the snowbound streets of Hanover or sleep in a baby's cot. Although, you know, each to their own.