Some Personal Observations of ISE 2020, Professional Observations to Follow Later

ISE 2020

While the coronavirus certainly decimated attendance at Integrated Systems Europe 2020 — coming in right at around 52,000 attendees — exhibitors were thrilled with those who showed. NOT ONE exhibitor complained to me. Quantity was down, but the quality was up. Way up. This actually could have been the best thing ever to happen to ISE. Why?

Well, ISE general manager, Mike Blackman and his amazing team at Integrated Systems Events had one heck of a dilemma going into ISE 2020. The team had already announced the show was moving to Barcelona in 2021 and they entered the opening of this year’s event on the heels of the highest attendance of any AV show in history, 81,268 and nearly 16 straight years of attendance growth. Moving to Barcelona was expected to bring a 20% to 35% reduction in attendance due to the geographic location of Spain (very little possible drive-in traffic and longer/difficult train rides from central Europe) and the change in venue. But, ISE officials had no other choice when the decision was made to relocate at the end of 2018. The Amsterdam RAI (convention center) just can’t accommodate a show this massive.

Thus, the irony of the hype of the coronavirus’ effect on ISE: The artificial fears — dreamed up by one person, in fact, maybe its most significant friend in 2021.

In January, an industry blogger tweeted a series of messages insinuating that the ISE organizers should consider some tight restrictions — and called on them to restrict Chinese exhibitors from coming to the show this year. It set off a firestorm of both positive and negative reactions to the work ISE was doing to protect both exhibitors and attendees from the coronavirus. At the time, there weren’t even any cases of the coronavirus in Europe and, as of the writing of this blog, the entire EMEA region has less than 50 total cases, with 16 of them all related to one person in Germany and nine of them in the U.K. again, mostly associated with one person.

Yet, only one truly prominent manufacturer pulled out of ISE — LG. Another 50+ did eventually pull participation, leaving a measly 1,255 exhibitors to pull the weight of the 56 or so that couldn’t come. Interestingly enough, of the 56 that didn’t make it, 55 of them cited travel issues — most coming from China — or an inability to get equipment to Amsterdam due to it coming from China. Only one cited fears of the virus but, we have since learned that the real reason this particular exhibitor couldn’t make it was that many of their stand-builders usually come from China, too.

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Of course, things went very differently for Mobile World Congress, which was scheduled for February 24-27, 2020, in Barcelona. Typically attracting more than 100,000 attendees, MWC has a similar makeup of tech companies and attendees, including a large number of Asian exhibitors. Like with ISE, LG was one of the first exhibitors to pull out of Mobile World Congress due to COVID-19 concerns, on February 4th. Unlike ISE, shortly thereafter, MWC show organizers wrote to attendees saying it would enforce some very tough restrictions, including temperature screenings, “self-certification” that attendees had not been in contact with anyone infected and that “all travelers who have been in China will need to demonstrate proof they have been outside of China 14 days prior to the event (passport stamp, health certificate).” While it’s not clear if these restrictions made things worse, it certainly didn’t help keep the event on track — other major exhibitors pulled out in the few days after, including Ericsson, Sony, Sprint, Amazon, Intel, Nokia and others, and on February 12th, Mobile World Congress 2020 was officially canceled.

Back to ISE 2021 and how it may have actually benefited from a comprehensive look at the coronavirus (now called COVID-19, by the way): Because ISE attendance was down nearly 35% in 2020 over 2019, the 2021 show will likely see an increase. And, a small increase from 2021 over 2020 will be considered a giant victory as the show moves to a new building, a new city, a new country and a new area of the continent of Europe.

One last note: I think our entire industry owes a debt of gratitude to Mike Blackman and his team, plus AVIXA and CEDIA. We should thank them for the professionalism and calm-under-pressure demeanor they all showed as the internet trolls of negativity took to the web to spread hate with attempts to block ISE from succeeding in the face of a virus the organization had no control over. It shows that way back when — some 18 years ago when AVIXA (then called InfoComm) and CEDIA tapped Mike Blackman to run ISE and build the show from the ground up, they all made the perfect decision to hire him!

By the way, we shot over 1,650 videos at ISE 2020, and ALL of them are here.

Finally, as the title states, my professional observations fo ISE 2020 will follow shortly.