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ISE 2018 preview: the world’s biggest AV show

Mike Blackman, managing director of Integrated Systems Events, looks back over 15 years of Integrated Systems Europe and talks about how the attendee profile has changed during that time.

ISE managing director Mike Blackman has presided over the show since its inception in 2004, where it occupied a single hall in Geneva. The event was a reasonable success, though not a runaway one: it drew close to 3,500 attendees and 120 exhibitors. “It wasn’t fantastic, but it was good enough for people to see its potential and want to take it further,” he recalls. “We got the support from a lot of companies to go on – just not in Geneva.”

Accordingly, the show moved to Amsterdam in 2005, where it has remained, apart from a blip in 2006. It has grown steadily each year: ISE has published graphs of exhibitor and attendee numbers over the years, and the two lines follow each other very closely. There’s an old journalistic adage that “dog bites man” isn’t news, but “man bites dog” would be; in a similar spirit, one could almost argue that “ISE doesn’t achieve record numbers” would be more of a headline than its opposite would be. ISE 2017 saw attendee numbers top 73,000, while exhibitors reached 1,400. A second temporary hall, Hall 15, has been added for 2018, bringing the total exhibition space to 55,000sqm.

“Today, ISE is the biggest audiovisual technology show in the world, across all parameters,” he says. “We are also now the biggest show of any kind in Holland – bigger than IBC. The size of the showfloor, exhibitors and number of attendees, it really has reached the ultimate position.”

Changing channels
In its early days, the show was heavily weighted towards manufacturers, system integrators and distributors – the AV channel. However, ISE couldn’t have maintained its growth trajectory from the channel alone – it has increasingly targeted an end-user audience.

“We have really pushed hard to get end-users to our events and it’s an area which has continued to grow. Before, it used to be something like 90-10, trade versus end-users. Now we are probably 65-35. It’s a huge growth area for us and we work tirelessly to ensure that we cater for everyone who attends, whatever industry they’re from. People take time out from work to attend our events, so it’s essential we ensure they return having learnt something.”

Of course, those who don’t work in the AV channel have more pressure on them to justify taking time out of the office to attend an AV trade show. Blackman believes that, with such a broad range of technology on show and learning opportunities available – many of them free of charge – it would be almost impossible for anyone attending the show to not be inspired by what they see. And this is borne out, he says, by the numerous examples he hears after every ISE of people discovering new technology at the show and deploying it in their businesses. “What we try and do is not only inform people, but to inspire them as well,” he says.

He recounts an early example of this, involving a temporary digital signage solution that was put in place across the RAI for ISE 2005, to help attendees find their way around the centre’s complicated layout.

“We worked with Sony to install a temporary system to help people find there way around and ultimately improve their experience,” he recalls. “The CEO of the RAI happened to be walking around and was impressed by the technology and how it was helping visitors. He asked me if I felt this was something he should think about installing permanently – to which I said, definitely. A year later, the RAI put in a digital signage solution. That’s just a small example of how the show can inspire others to implement and deploy new technologies.”

Solutions sales
Blackman also sees a parallel between the growth in end-user attendance of ISE and the rise of the solution sale. As the channel has moved from ‘shifting boxes’ to selling solutions, presenting technology to end-user decision-makers has increasingly involved collaboration between a number of partners. This has brought manufacturers closer to end-users, and many manufacturers have sought to become their partners, to provide a higher level of service.

He points out another reason why manufacturers want to target end-users directly – which is that some integrators may have reasons not to suggest certain brands’ products to their clients. “The danger is that an integrator may have a better relationship with one manufacturer over another, or perhaps they receive a better margin with one over another. Manufacturers fear that and that’s why they want to be able to speak directly to the end-users themselves. ISE provides that.”

Fifteen years in, Blackman is still palpably excited about the show he runs. “I’m a huge technology fan,” he says. “Walking around the RAI during ISE for me, is like being a kid in a giant toyshop.” And with that toyshop getting bigger each year, that excitement is unlikely to diminish any time soon.