Time for my annual review of spin metric from the Design Automation Conference (DAC), this year held in Austin, Texas for the first time. Last year I called the conference attendance as flat. I'm calling the same for this year.
This was a controversial decision and caused many companies in the Electronic Design Automation (EDA) industry to stay home from the exhibit. But the final news release put on a big smile and said the event "exceeded expectations." That it did. Most everyone I talked to said it would be a "ghost town." "deader than a doornail" and other less than happy predictions. It was not as bad as people thought. It was not as good as some people say.
It is unfair to compare Austin's effort to San Francisco's last year. It's better to compare it the San Diego the year previous because of the similarities in logistics. San Diego and Austin are a lot cheaper to put on a large conference than San Francisco, but actually getting to the venue is about as tough. Not a lot of options for people out of town to get there and from overseas, there are at least two layovers.
With that comparison in place, this is what we have:
- Exhibit-only attendance was 2364, up between 8 and 11 percent (depending on which report you read).
- Conference-only attendance 1589, down 9 percent.
- Exhibit staff 1998, down 9 percent
- Overall attendance 5951, down 9 percent
I also counted the number of booths available in the exhibit and noted that the plans were for the same number as were at San Francisco (could not find a floor map for San Diego). There were more than 20 unoccupied booths which matched up with the participation drop in exhibit staff.
Overall you might consider those number disasterous, but you have to keep in mind that there was a fairly significant psychological resistance to the venue that was unfounded in reality. Austin is NOT that bad a place for a conference. It's a great city. Factoring that in I call it a wash compared to San Diego.
The reaction I got from exhibitors from the Big Three (Mentor Graphics, Cadence and Synopsys) was quite positive. I had my partner Joe Basques walking the floor with an iPad giving me real time views and we both could see that all the activity was in those areas. In the cheap seats, with the startups and smaller players, there was more dissatisfaction with booth traffic. A few said the numbers were smaller but the quality was higher in leads, but most were not happy with what they got for the price.
For comparison, lets take a look over at DesignCon 2013. Everything was up 8 percent across the board. The number of exhibitors was just a couple dozen under the total for DAC Austin and I heard nary a derogatory word from any exhibitor. What's the difference? It's in the same place every year. The exhibits are smaller overall so the cost is less. It is easy to get to from the east coast and overseas. It's not in a peak travel/vacation time.
And here's the real problem: People only talk about the exhibits, floor traffic and parties. They don't say anything about the technical sessions. I actually had to ask people what they thought about them and universally it was "Oh, they were as good as ever."
DAC needs to consider all of that. In today's world of CDN Live, SNUG, NI Week, Design West and all the online events that compete for attention and attendance – smaller is better. The days when DAC was drawing 10,000 attendees is long gone. It's strength has always been the technical program that was funded by the exhibits, but it's the exhibits that create the most cost. It's time for DAC to go back to those roots and decide where they want to put them down.