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Exclusive: Mike Beatty, managing director of Pulse Cinemas, on ISE’s handling of the pandemic

The global pandemic has impacted all sectors of the AV industry, perhaps no more so than exhibitions and live events. So it was perhaps no great surprise when Integrated Systems Events finally called time on their attempts to stage a full-fat ISE 2021 in-person show at the Barcelona Gran Vía, Fira de Barcelona. 

This year’s ISE was always going to be a tricky event. Scheduled for February as usual, and then moved to June, Covid-19 put the ISE team under serious pressure. Should the event have been pushed back to the autumn? Should it have gone ahead as planned in Barcelona? And about the Live & Online approach, with four in-person events in Barcelona, Munich, Amsterdam and London – plus the Cisco-powered ISE Digital? We spoke to Mike Beatty, managing director of Pulse Cinemas for his take on things.

What do you think of ISE’s overall approach to this year’s crisis in what were incredibly difficult circumstances?
Managing your way through this Covid outbreak has been challenging enough for us and most businesses in this sector. The government’s lack of transparency and changeable timetable to exit the lockdown has left Mike Blackman and the team at ISE in an impossible position. I feel nothing but immense sympathy, have the upmost respect and can only applaud the team for doing all they could to give their trade partners and visiting audience as much feedback and notice as possible.

How surprised were you that the event was ultimately cancelled as a physical event? Should this decision have been made earlier or was ISE correct to wait until it did?
Hindsight is a wonderful thing and I’m sure time will see us applauding or questioning many decisions made. I can only say that I respect the enormity of the decisions that needed to be made and again applaud the team’s clear and concise decisions on the future of the show.

Would you have rather ISE had pushed the February event back to the autumn in the first instance, rather than June, or was their approach bang on?
Again, only time will tell if the decisions made were sensible ones. Without a crystal ball predicting further outbreaks, or government decisions, I’m not sure what else the team at ISE could have done.

Do you think the event should have been pushed back again to the autumn (potentially clashing with or being very close to Infocomm), rather than being cancelled as a physical event?
While it is clearly regrettable that the show has been cancelled, at least there is a certainty in that decision and allows focus to shift to the regional shows and a re-opening in 2022

Had the show gone ahead in June, how likely would you have been to attend / exhibit?
The answer here would depend on the decisions made by Boris and his team in the UK. If my staff would have needed to isolate on arrival or return, the answer is no. If the team would need to socially distance, wear masks and avoid gatherings, we would absolutely have questioned the benefits and expense of our company attending.

What are your thoughts on the four regional events and how likely are you to either attend or exhibit?
I understand why ISE have organised these regional events and hope that the virus and government rules allow us to enjoy an event free of the restrictions currently in place. We have a beautiful, currently unused showroom that is being updated and a brand new space within the Minotti showroom in central London. I must say I’m more focused on the completion of this; the thought of the industry seeing our amazing upgrades far out-ways the desire to attend a show full of restrictions.

How important do you think the virtual show will be going forward? And what are your thoughts on virtual shows in general (which have, unsurprisingly, been given a massive boost on the back of Covid)?
There is nothing more powerful than allowing our audience to experience what we offer in one of our many beautiful facilities. Virtual shows leave me cold; even though this may be

a requirement for future events if the world doesn’t learn to live with viruses. I really hope, for the sake of our industry, that we can ‘return to normal’ some time very soon.

Given the impact of Covid on all of our businesses, where does the importance of ISE’s annual event sit for you? Can you see it continuing to grow in importance, or will Covid lead to a diminishing in its influence?
If only I could give you an answer that didn’t require a fully equipped Covid protected crystal ball. Of course we all want our shows back; we want to meet, greet, entertain, party and enjoy each other’s company, but without certainty we need to make the best of what we have. ISE is the best and most impressive show our industry has ever produced; why would anyone not want it back to where it was.

Are you planning or anticipating any sort of business travel this year (including Infocomm)? Or are you and your organisation planning for 2022 or a return to business travel?
Pulse Cinemas has navigated its way through the past 20 years by forward planning, but until business certainty returns, we will need to continue to make our decisions with the limited and changing evidence in front of us. I can’t wait to travel again, meet our friends, hold our much loved parties and build on the foundations laid… But for now, we continue to prosper, do what we can do, with the limited information in front of us.

What are your thoughts on Infocomm 2021, how the rescheduling was handled in comparison with ISE, and the likelihood that it will ultimately go ahead as a physical event?
The ladies and gents behind the success or failure of both events have needed their much mentioned crystal ball and only time can judge if any one of the decisions was a genius move or a naive pipe dream.