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Mike Blackman gets ready for an ISE of sourcing, updates, sustainability… and high attendance

Mike Blackman gets ready for an ISE of sourcing, updates, sustainability… and high attendance

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The leading AV show in Europe kept the flame on during the pandemic, holding a small 2021 edition (the first in Barcelona after leaving Amsterdam), and a stronger but clearly still pandemic-influenced 2022 edition. 2023 could be the year of coming back full steam. What expects us in this edition? What is the value of a show like ISE in this still peculiar context? What new business models and technical innovations should we get ready for? We talk to him and take this opportunity for an analysis of what a show like this brings. Eric Mottard

Has the pandemic left an impact on the show?

Yes, there is still an impact, especially since 15% of participants are Chinese and many will not be able to come. Many of the biggest ones have distribution offices in Europe, but still, some won’t make it. We also still see some people uneasy about travelling, though these are limited numbers. But in general, the prospects are very good, and in terms of registrations, we are on a par with where we were in December 2019, so the forecast is very good.

Is the number of attendees important?

Quality is important, and it is true that big numbers can be deceiving if you are talking about people with no power of decision. The first ISEs, business was very good but educational sessions had little attendance, and this worried us. So we looked at the profiles of attendees and saw they were very senior people, and these professionals did not want education. I know of shows where education is so successful that the sessions are full but the show dies, because the floor is empty and no business gets done. So numbers can be deceiving indeed.

So quality more than just quantity. Are your priorities changing regarding the strategic segments you need?

Many of our attendees are integrators, who come to buy and need to see the products, and this is very good for us, but we need to grow with end clients, corporates. We need them because the difference between products is not always very clear, and so having end clients understand the products in detail, building relationships with manufacturers, understand their value, is important. Manufacturers want customers to demand this or that brand, and influence the integrators who are the ones buying, in permanent installations like offices.

When it comes to live events, it is different: the producers are often not demanding a specific brand, they care about the quality and the effects, they want to achieve something and tell their integrators the effect they need; they may mention a brand but often don’t demand one. The organiser (especially the agency) relies more on the supplier (integrator, AV rental company) to give them quality. So we try to get live event agencies to come to ISE so they become more knowledgeable and demand more specific services. A difference between the two segments is that in the corporate world, people are learning to buy, in agencies, they are sold to. We are trying to educate them, but it is a process.

Where are your collaborators to produce the show from?

All are local. Even our long-term partner Lang, has now opened in Barcelona. Seven companies have decided to set up an office in Barcelona since we brought the show here, and this will still grow. We are leaving a legacy here, our impact is not limited to 4 days.

And the impact could even go further: when we opened in Amsterdam, the fact of having the huge port of Rotterdam was an advantage, some companies used Rotterdam as their import based. Barcelona could be the entry point for southern Europe.

Is sustainability becoming a real issue in AV?

It is, and we are addressing it. We can’t be the influence but we can be the megaphone. We are looking at sustainability in our awards, giving credibility to players who are addressing it. We are supporting the Green AV Challenge, and an organization called SAVe (which helps AV suppliers be more sustainable) will be at the show. So it is real but more than transport or electricity consumption, a key sustainability challenge is end-of-life. You see a fight going on, with a possible trend from owning to renting, “AV as a service”. In this model, like in photocopy management, you don’t buy, you lease and get your solution (a conference room for instance) updated regularly. This is good for everyone in the value chain… but we have to see what happens at the end of life of that lease, maybe instal it in a school. But this still has to be fully worked out and it is key for our sustainability as an industry.

Is sustainability a threat, with people reluctant to come?

We have a challenge, but two factors make it necessary to attend: first humans are social creatures and need to connect; second: AV is a visual and acoustic service that you have to see, hear and try out directly. All this makes it hard to substitute a show like ISE.

After the pandemic, is this edition going to be strongly oriented to purchasing?

Yes, we just had two years of low purchasing due to the pandemic. First, because there were no events so AV rental companies did not buy equipment, and second, because many companies with financial issues sold their equipment. Now activity is back, so the warehouses are filling up again. The demand for new equipment is very high. There are still issues of availability of material, and this makes it even more important to source well, and coming to ISE helps rental companies do that.

Beyond buying, an objective when attending a show is to update on tech novelties. Is it a moment of much novelty in the industry?

Yes, absolutely, I wonder if our industry is not sometimes too sophisticated in novelties. People want technological advances, but it has to bring a clear value added. If you are rental, you are looking to amortise and then make a profit. If buying something new gets the customer to buy, then it makes sense, but if what I have in my storage already satisfies the customer, then it does not. As AV professionals we see a lot of things that the client or the attendee does not. If it is 4K or 8K, it does not always make a difference for the public.

This being said, there is a lot of innovation. One strong innovation as curved and flexible LED screens which really make a difference in events, opening up new possibilities to the art director. You had curved LED and now you have flexible LED which is more affordable and more flexible than before. Also holograms are getting more real. I participated recently in a conference remotely, using the technology of small propellers which is getting amazing. A green screen, 4K cameras and lights, and that did it. This will be a good solution for speakers who can’t make it physically to the event. We will see more of that, and I think it will be a game changer for live events, museums, education… but the real game changer is when you add AI to it and the hologram talks to you… and we are not far from that!

ISE takes place in Barcelona, from 31st January to 3rd February:

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