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PLASA Show 2019: Peter Heath on what to expect this year

Having successfully bounced back from some pretty tough times, Peter Heath, PLASA managing director, discusses the organisation’s plans for its flagship event, which takes place 15-17 September at London Olympia

How happy are you with the way last year’s show was received (particularly by pro audio brands)?
We were very pleased with the response to last year’s show, both during the exhibition and in the conversations that followed. We’ve made no secret of our ambition to grow the audio side of the PLASA Show in conjunction with lighting, video and staging. The 2018 exhibition was a strong step in that direction, from the very busy showfloor to a substantial growth in the number of leading audio brands who were present. 

Most importantly, we weren’t the only ones who were happy! Year-on-year we experienced a 4% increase in visitors of whom 63% were decision makers, meaning a lot of business was done. More than 70% of the exhibitors immediately rebooked for 2019. 

What are your aims for this year’s show?
Building on the success of last year, the PLASA Show 2019 will be the best example yet of how PLASA itself is changing and adapting to serve the modern business, from the thriving lighting community that calls the show home to the largest and deepest audio component in years. 

From an audio perspective, we understand the importance of bringing industry leading manufacturers to the show and that’s exactly what we’re going to deliver, including d&b audiotechnik as a headline sponsor, L-Acoustics returning to the show after a strong debut in 2018, Coda Audio exhibiting for the first time, Void Acoustics debuting, plus Bose, Yamaha and many more. We’re anticipating a big, busy show with qualified visitors and plenty of opportunities.

In addition, we’ll be introducing three new audio lounges where visitors will be able to experience in-depth demonstrations of key new technologies including L-Acoustics’ A Series medium throw for touring and installation, Sound Technology demoing their high-profile brands and installed sound from RCF.

Proving that we’re listening to visitors and exhibitors alike, we’ve doubled the number of audio demos to create what we believe is the best UK-based opportunity for audio professionals to hear back-to-back demos from Adam Hall, Shermann Audio, Void Acoustics, Aura Audio and OHM. KV2 Audio will present demonstrations in a dedicated space while Outboard TiMax shows off its immersive audio technology.

We are also very excited to introduce a brand new audio element to The PLASA Show, named Stage to Studio and organised in association with Sound on Sound and Headliner magazine. We’ve developed this concept in recognition of how the industry itself is changing, particularly when it comes to live recording. There are many young audio engineers across the UK and beyond who go out and mix shows, produce music at home and buy pro audio equipment, but they feel barely any connection to the industry as we have known it in the past. It is absolutely vital that we bring these people into the industry, which means we have to adapt. Stage to Studio is part of making that happen. 

Over the last couple of years, how have you changed the recipe of the show to increase its appeal to audio brands?

The evolution of the PLASA Show has been an exercise in balancing the way we serve the broader entertainment technology community, so it doesn’t matter whether you deal in speakers, moving heads, truss, screens or IP networks, you can participate in the PLASA Show knowing that your time will be well spent. 

“It’s been a long process of reinvention and of course it never really ends, but I’m proud of the progress that we’ve made”

Everyone knows that from an audio perspective, the PLASA Show experienced some challenging years. We were very open in addressing those issues. But it is also important to recognise how we grasped the opportunity that came as a result of that time. We engaged with brands at all levels and listened carefully to what we were told. A tremendous amount of change followed, from the move back to Olympia in central London to creating far more opportunities for live demos, the arrival of major brands, the creation of more forums for networking and the introduction of new, innovative show features such as Stage to Studio. It’s been a long process of reinvention and of course it never really ends, but I’m proud of the progress that we’ve made. 

I think it’s also important to remember that at heart, the business of entertainment technology is inherently social – as an industry we run on relationships. For any exhibition to succeed, people need to feel that when they step into the show, they’ll be met by friends and colleagues they wouldn’t otherwise see. I’m glad to say that for audio people (I count myself among them), that feeling is 100% back at the PLASA Show.

What are the big trends you expect to see from exhibitors this year?
Immersive audio is continuing to capture the imagination of the industry and we expect to see more of those solutions being demonstrated. We’re also anticipating a rise in the number of new technologies and products on display – with so many more brands across all of our verticals coming into the show, there will simply be much more to see and hear. I think technology as a whole is beginning to converge across verticals. Not so long ago people thought of lighting, video and sound as generally being separate, whereas now the rise of IP networking is bringing everything together. 

How have you developed the show’s seminar and training programme?
PLASA believes deeply in the importance of high quality industry training and this year’s programme reflects that commitment. We’ve worked with industry experts, members of the media and key manufacturers to develop a really diverse set of sessions. We’re covering everything from safety standards, powering an LED rig, sound for worship and immersive audio to the future of theatre and stadium sound. We’ll even have Phil Ward hosting a debate on how audio can be given a more prominent role in the overall production chain. 

On your website it says nearly half of visitors to PLASA London don’t attend any other trade show. What do you think it offers that no other event does?
The PLASA Show is to go-to event for thousands of production and audio professionals who don’t attend overseas shows. There are huge numbers of people who are actively engaged in our industry and who want to see the latest technology, meet their peers and do business but for reasons of either money or time they won’t get on a plane. Also, let’s not forget that the UK remains one of the world’s leading markets for AV technology – we’re a trend-setting nation. It follows that there is a need for a strong, diverse and well attended show in the capital city where domestic visitors can plug into the global industry and international visitors can meet their UK-based counterparts. The question isn’t why would people attend, it’s why on earth wouldn’t they? 

Are you looking to increase the number of AV professionals attending the show and what can the show offer to entice more to attend?
AV definitely has a home at The PLASA Show, including the debut this year of Midwich, who will occupy an impressive stand of more than 100sqm. As one of the leading companies within the AV space, we take Midwich’s commitment to PLASA as a strong indication that we are moving in the right direction for an extremely important market. Visitors will also be able to meet brands including Epson, Absen, VOD Visual and Netgear.  

How would you assess the collective performance and health of all PLASA shows?
Each PLASA Show has its own character and appeal and I’m glad to say that they are all in great shape. PLASA Focus Leeds is always very popular for the fantastic networking opportunities it delivers. We’re also really looking forward to bringing a whole new approach to the business in Scotland when we host PLASA Focus Glasgow in March 2020. Ultimately, PLASA is a Trade Association for the entire entertainment technology family, and all of our exhibitions are designed to give everyone a chance to come together, celebrate what we do and get more business done.

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