ShowEast '08 hasn't been a must-see

Floor traffic appears down; vendors blame economy

ORLANDO -- The trade show floor at exhibition confabs like ShowEast 2008 tends to be dominated as much by tech displays as popcorn-and-candy vendors these days.

Gloomily, floor traffic appears down at both this year. Vendors blame economy-slackened show attendance and competition from off-site movie screenings.

At one point on Wednesday -- the second day of operations on the trade show floor -- staff at a huge Sony Electronics booth outnumbered customers by about six to one.

The situation elsewhere on the floor wasn't much better.

"It's not been very good," lamented Brian Stuckelman of Dale & Thomas Popcorn, which is pushing a new chocolate-covered popcorn product. "The economy doesn't help. It seems like some companies aren't sending their people here this year."

Ray Estrada of Blair Communications, a Dallas-based marketer of two-way radios for theaters and movie sets, also cited recessionary cost-cutting at entertainment companies.

"I spoke to several people who scaled back on who they brought to the show," Estrada said.

Then there's D-Box, a Montreal-based manufacturer of motion-simulation systems for movie theaters. Traffic was so good for its product demos that staff was taking seating reservations.

"We're pushing people away," D-Box managing director D-Box Guy Marcoux said. "So traffic for us has been very good."

But at the Seating Concepts booth and other displays of more conventional theater seats, few showgoers seemed inclined to take a load off, let alone negotiate a product purchase. Of course, those seats didn't rock and roll.

Just off the trade show floor in nearby demo suites staffed by DTS, RealD and others, there was scant evidence of any influx of prospective customers.

RealD and Sony Electronics announced a new product partnership Wednesday, through which RealD's 3-D equipment will be more easily integrated into Sony's digital projection systems. And Korean manufacturer MasterImage drew a good response from its special morning demo of its portable 3-D system.

Elsewhere at ShowEast on Wednesday, lifetime achievement laurels were awarded to Lee Roy Mitchell, chairman of the National Assn. of Theatre Owners and longtime topper of the Cinemark theater chain. The presentation was made at a luncheon sponsored by Sony Electronics.

At a luncheon set for Thursday that's sponsored by Imax and DLP Cinema, six industry vets will be inducted into the ShowEast Hall of Fame: Prytania Theatre's Rene Brunet Jr., National Amusements' George Levitt, Carmike Cinemas' Tom Sawyer, Pacific Theatres' Dean Schaff, MGM's Mike Share and posthumously Mann Theatres' Bill Hertz. ShowEast concludes its four-day run Thursday with a gala dinner featuring several other industry awards.