NOT SURPRISINGLY, INFOCOMM 2002, HELD IN JUNE IN LAS VEGAS, suffered a drop in attendance over last year. But comparatively speaking, the show seemed rather healthy. While the floors of some of the other trade shows that I've been to this year often looked like ghost towns, the floor at InfoComm always seemed to maintain a robust level of foot traffic.

A look at the official attendance reveals why. Although the overall attendance figure for 2002 was 20,260, which is about 1,200 fewer exhibitor personnel and about 800 fewer attendees than last year, the overall number of exhibiting companies (539) was up over the prior year's show total (516) by 4.5%. And since those 539 exhibitors were spread over a slightly smaller exhibit floor area, crowd density was able to remain at a fairly high level.

Moreover, enduser attendance was actually up 10.3% in 2002. According to the ICIA, the sponsor of InfoComm, this reflects the organization's strategy of bringing high-quality end users (almost all of whom are providers of AV technology in their companies or organizations) to the show along with systems integrators, dealers, independent representatives, rental and staging companies and independent consultants. In response to exhibitor requests, InfoComm made a strong effort to reach out to end users in business and industry, education, government and the military, entertainment and the worship sector — people involved in purchasing AV equipment or maintaining it, many of whom may not have realized the existence of InfoComm prior to this year.

Naturally, the big draw at InfoComm is the plethora of new products on display. This year, the two hotbutton areas on the product side seemed to be networked projectors and plasma displays. At least nine vendors were showcasing networkable projectors, among them being Christie, NEC, Mitsubishi, Barco, Sharp, Sony and Toshiba. As for plasma displays, they were just everywhere. Pete Putman's plasma display buyer's guide in this month's issue provides the specs on most of the models that were on display at the show, and it only takes a glance at the list to be amazed at just how many offerings there are. The interesting thing at this point will be to see if demand can match the supply.

But it wasn't just the products that the attendees came to see. They also came to learn. According to the ICIA, participation in the educational program at InfoComm hit record levels this year. As someone who sat in a number of the sessions myself, especially those focused on management and marketing topics for staging and rental businesses, I can attest that many of the sessions were filled to near capacity.

Particularly interesting was ICIA's Rental & Staging Council Forum. This lively, standing-room only session gave colleagues in the rental and staging business a chance to discuss and debate a widerange of topics, from the high cost of health insurance to the almost universally despised hotel exclusivity contracts that have become more common in the industry. Naturally, the tough business climate was also a hot topic of conversation, but the good news was the number of business owners saying they were seeing signs that the market was starting to turn around. Perhaps the relatively strong health of the InfoComm show itself is one more sign that they are right.