Is the Design Automation Conference still relevant? The industry has asked itself this question at every recent DAC, and this year's event in San Diego was no exception. Attendance last week was down from 5,135 (real) engineers who showed up from the 7,565 who attended in San Francisco last year. This isn't a surprise. San Francisco always outperforms, especially on "free Monday," when the college kids stream in from Berkeley, Stanford and San Jose State. Indeed, the lack of college kids rolling through San Diego's convention center last Monday was a big part of the attendance delta.
But more worrisome to the industry are the year-on-year trends. DAC San Diego 2004 saw 5,825 attendees and DAC Anaheim in 2005 drew 5,421. Clearly, attendance is on the wane.
At the same time, exhibitors are reducing their spending on DAC booths and meeting space. All the major EDA vendors have their own customer events, some running throughout the year. They have more control over their audience and their message.
DAC still thrives on what it came into the world with: technical programs. Many of the sessions were packed. But the exhibits pay the bills.
So what to do? "To stop erosion, we need to show where we can integrate with other people," Magma Design Automation CEO Rajeev Madhavan told me last week. (See a video interview with Madhavan at www.youtube.com/profile?user=bfuller9.)
Computer science professor Duncan M. Walker of Texas A&M disagreed strongly in an e-mail to me: "DAC existed for many years without any exhibits, and as far as I am concerned, the exhibits can ebb and flow with the industry. DAC is a conference that has a trade show, not the other way around."
Tough decisions lie ahead. The industry is consolidating. And the startups that get funded aren't buying leading-edge tools.
Our own event, the Embedded Systems Conference, got a major goose this year with the addition of some creative content on the show floor, notably tearing down a Toyota Prius over three days. Intel allied with Orange County choppers to build a motorcycle and discussed that design on the show floor. Throw in the three-year-old EE Times ACE Awards held in conjunction, and you have a transformed ESC from just five years earlier.
Chatter around the marketing water cooler is that face-to-face events are dead. But this is nonsense. People crave the serendipity of a chance hallway encounter, the new business cards and a booth demo that catches the eye.
DAC needs work. It's time for all of us to sit down and give it some juice.
For EE Times' news coverage at DAC, including exclusive video interviews, see www.eetimes.com/conf/dac/.