What future for the DATE conference?

Last week was the first time that Nicolas and myself attended the DATE conference. We were there as exhibitors with Synflow, and here is what we have to say about DATE. The conference takes place in Dresden, Germany, which is a pretty nice city. Receptions (exhibition reception and DATE party) had very good food and the party included a visit of Volkswagen's awesome luxury car plant. The staff was professional and nice, and we were lucky to have a neighbor who gave us an interesting perspective and helpful advice (thanks Amit!). Now on to the review of the actual exhibition.

First, DATE is not cheap. Special start-up price is 2K€ ($2.7K). I just looked up DAC, it has a special "first exhibitor" package, for a mere $1.5K. DAC is about three times bigger, too. Concerning attendance, I was able to find numbers here and on the websites for the previous editions. There were 625 exhibition visitors in 2010, increased to 890 in 2011 (probably due to the presence of GlobalFoundries), and 800 in 2012 and 2013; the number of conference attendees has been around 1,300 and now is around 1,400. I couldn't find any other statistics. By contrast, DAC compiles in-depth statistics about its visitors, including demographics and an event audit.

DATE is 75% more expensive and 3x smaller than DAC. Hmm. This means that to be worth your time and money, exhibiting at DATE would have to get you several quality leads, right? Smaller is not necessarily bad, if you expect the conference to be well-focused on semiconductor, EDA, IP, design, verification. Sadly, this is not the case. Not one of the Big Three in EDA was exhibiting. No IP companies (ARM, Arteris, Sonics) either. That could still be ok, as it should not prevent semiconductor professionals from visiting the exhibition area. Let's go back to the numbers.

Facepalm statue

The total attendance only tells part of the story. Since we are a company, we are more interested in "exhibits only" attendees: in this case, DATE has 800 exhibition visitors versus 2,400 for DAC. What proportion of these actually visited the exhibition area? No statistics here, only a rough estimation. We must have seen at most 100 people walking around our corner on the first day, but on days 2 and 3, this dropped to about 20 people per day. Keep in mind that this is not the number of people who stopped at our booth, just the number of people walking by our corner, regardless of whether they stopped at our booth, or at the booth of our neighbors. DATE advertises that Dresden is at the heart of the "Silicon Saxony" with 40,000 jobs related to semiconductor. Where the hell did these people go? Don't they or their companies care about innovation? And Infineon, where art thou? Come on, all you needed to do was take the 8 tramway at the station "Infineon Süd", change at Albertplatz to take the 6 to the KongressZentrum (Congress Center).

Equally important to the number of visitors is the question: who are those visitors? What is the probability of a visitor transforming into a quality lead? Because let's face it, some researchers might buy software, albeit often at a heavily discounted price; but students? They're never gonna buy a thing, so you want as few of them as possible. Well at DAC, a mere 7% of exhibit attendees are students (12% if you count conference + exhibit attendees). Again no numbers for DATE, so this is only based on what we've observed, but a majority (that's over 50%) of our visitors were students. And it's not just us, either, our neighbors have had a similar experience. You tend to remember the occasional designer or professor, because they're just so few and far between. To give you an idea, we got more business cards at IP-SoC 2012 where we were not even exhibiting, or at SAME 2013 where we exhibited for ONE day only and a quarter of the price. WTF?

equation: disappointment = expectation divided by reality

What about DATE's future?

The feedback from a couple of companies exhibiting at DATE a few years in a row is that the exhibition area has been shrinking. The supposed 800 visitors are like dark silicon: they're here, they're just not active. Based on the exhibit/conference attendees ratio (around 2 at DAC, versus 0.5 at DATE), I see two possibilities:

  1. either DATE recognizes that the industry needs a European show focused on EDA/semiconductor, like a DAC for the EU, and puts a strong focus on exhibition, reducing the size of the conference and/or attracting more professional exhibition visitors in an attempt to increase that exhibition/conference ratio,

  2. or DATE stays a conference focused on academia with an accessory exhibition area, gets used to dwindling numbers of exhibitors, and gets to keep widening the gap between research and the needs of the industry.

Your call, DATE.