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ISE gets ready for an impactful 2022 edition, says Mike Blackman

ISE gets ready for an impactful 2022 edition, says Mike Blackman

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It is simply one of the most powerful shows in Europe: ISE, the exhibition dedicated to the audiovisuals industry, has grown all the way to reaching 80,000 delegates in its latest edition in Amsterdam. It decided to change city and come to Barcelona, which it did in a much-reduced edition held in June 2021. Now the show is getting ready for its first “real”, powerful edition in its new home, Fira de Barcelona (1-4 February 2022). We talk to ISE’s general manager, Mike Blackman and get to know more about the show’s prospects and Mike’s vision of the industry. Eric Mottard

How do you see the market in the last few weeks. Is Europe (and live events) coming back?

Definitely. I have been in the last month to many events across Europe, and we see the industry getting back to business, events are happening and people really happy to meet again, they realise they have been missing this human interaction and everything it brings. And especially, our industry has to be experienced first-hand: you have to see it and get explanations, which is much better in a face-to-face format.

What scenario are you working with in terms of health and safety?

I am like everyone else, I hope normalisation will be complete very quickly but we have to be realistic: the recovery is a bit slower than anticipated, some countries are still suffering so we have to be cautious. We are following the situation in Spain, in Catalonia, and with Fira (which, by the way, have received awards for their health safety policy, so we are in good hands). Now there is no restriction on the number of people, but I don’t know if it will still be compulsory to wear masks. For now, we are planning to require that people have a certificate of vaccination, of recovery or a negative test result.

International will probably require also a negative test result, anyway as is the case today between most European countries. At the moment there is freedom of movement within Europe, so Europeans should be OK to travel, probably with test or vaccination… but 20% of attendees come from outside Europe, and this group may be a bit affected. Overall, we think anything between 40,000 and 50,000 attendees would be already a very powerful show.

Is there a “quality over quantity” effect, the fact that people who do come are the most serious ones?

I think we will see that. We did observe it in June, in our Barcelona event: people who came were the most committed, serious, important. And this is important, since our job is to deliver ROI to our exhibitors, whatever parameters they set: for some it is the number of people, for others the number of leads, or the ability to meet a few very big clients, some want to train users or stakeholders so that they will demand or use the products properly… We have to provide them this value, whatever it is.

So we especially provide a platform for buyers and sellers to talk together. And our platform should make it easy for them to find each other, but beyond that, we need to understand what our exhibitors want to achieve, and what they provide, and on the other hand, what visitors are looking for. When there is a match, then we have fulfilled our mission.

Has innovation kept on during the pandemic? Is there a lot to get updated about?

Lots of new things happened during the pandemic. It is impressive to see how our industry’s companies have adapted their way of doing business. For instance, the offer of solutions to work remotely or connect people remotely is striking. Live event companies have also reinvented themselves, created platforms for virtual or hybrid events, designing solutions for quality presentations and engaging online experiences… Digital signage companies have integrated solutions to count people and ensure health protocols, integrating AI, taking their temperature and checking they wear a mask, for instance. And in live events, I saw an AV rental company in Spain which approached a venue to create car cinemas. Germany had a true revival of outdoor cinemas. Companies are thinking how they can adapt their businesses.

Audiovisuals have traditionally sent messages to an audience; will they increasingly be able to get data: measure, recognise faces, personalise content, and bring data to the organiser?

Yes, it could be a very big change, although there are legal challenges. There are solutions that could be put in place, like a store recognising my face and suggesting me, on a screen, products which can fit my taste. Retailers have to get people back into stores and the way to do that is making real time shopping an experience – this involves store design, services they offer and how personalised your experience is.

How do you see the decision process of people when it comes to committing to coming to a show like ISE? Are people delaying as much as possible?

The majority of our customers have taken their decision, since preparing for a show like this (planning, shipping, organising travel, doing the pre-show marketing…) take time, so we already have almost 700 committed companies. Now we are getting many bookings every day, though some are sorting out how they can participate. There are still some issues about logistics and travel restrictions (for instance some Asian countries) and travel policies of companies. They need certainty about the possibility to travel.

Exhibitors need more flexibility than before?

Yes, they do, though all have to understand that as an organiser, we have to make commitments, book the venue, promote the show. So we do need to have cancellation policies. Last year, though, we refunded everybody, even if they cancelled before we define this policy. We wanted to be fair and take care of our community, so we made that decision which was a costly one financially, but a good one in terms of positioning in the community.

You had a show in Barcelona in June, but this will be your true arrival in Barcelona? The first opportunity for the city to really experience ISE?

It is the first real show, yes. We will support various local initiatives, like the Llum lighting festival, and we are working on other alliances. And we are happy to help the city in various ways. Barcelona lives on tourism, and a show like ours brings people to the city, people who spend on hotels and restaurants. We also see companies which have set up shop in Barcelona following our decision to move here. And Barcelona had a strong positioning as a technological city, including shows like Smart Cities and the MWC, and ISE will add another important asset in that positioning. We see our local partners value this, and we have gotten a lot of support by the city, the regional and national governments.

What highlights for this year’s show?

We will be the first big event in 2022 in the city. This will be a powerful edition: we will see a resurgence in business; we will be bringing very good speakers; all major manufacturers will come to the show and there will be many product  launches and announcements of new initiatives. It will be a great reencounter of the AV community in Europe.

Will the pandemic have any lasting consequence in your business?

Logically, a show like ISE will have a hybrid element from now on, even if the virtual part will be mostly about streaming educational content rather than interacting. Maybe we will do more presence post-show so that people see what they are doing.

You can register to ISE 2022 here

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