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The Trade Show Quandary

The Trade Show Quandary

February seems like such a long time ago. But way back then, three weeks before San Francisco announced a citywide shutdown on March 16 and two weeks before the NBA canceled its season, the Game Developers Conference sent out an announcement that its 2020 event would be postponed. Exhibitors and attendees were to stay tuned for further updates. 

Then on March 20, NAB canceled its April show in Las Vegas. Avixa/InfoComm followed on March 30 with the cancellation of its June event, also scheduled for Las Vegas. Then Summer NAMM in July. Then IBC, CEDIA and our own Mix Presents Sound for Film & Television in September. Then AES New York in October… So far, it’s been a rolling, month-by-month series of cancellations, typically about six months ahead of the particular event. (As of this writing, NAMM 2021 was officially still planning for a January in-person event in Anaheim, with some restrictions in place. That, of course, could change any day.)

Each of these events, in the meantime, has either already held or already announced some type of virtual equivalent. Everyone reading this, no doubt, has taken part in one or more. NAB and InfoComm had to figure out how to do it pretty quickly, hustling to gather assets. AES has had more time to plan and has announced a monthlong, online alternative, integrating live virtual sessions and multimedia presentations and a host of other features. At Mix, we’re in the middle of converting our Sound for Film & Television event to two half-day sessions, with a combination of virtual-live and pre-recorded program. It’s not easy to put it all together, as I can attest. More than ever, it requires committed support from partners and attendees, often in new and unforeseen ways. 

The temporary loss of trade shows is merely a tiny puddle in magnitude compared to the oceans of losses suffered these past six months by the entertainment industry at large, the live sound and event industry in particular, and by so, so, so many talented artists and audio professionals, with no clear end in sight. But to each segment of the many and varied entertainment technology industries, these trade shows are their own big deal. Their own market’s massive loss. And for each, it means loss of the main source of annual revenue for the organization.  

Still, it’s more than that. Trade shows have become a central component in the yearly cycle of life within each and every technology industry, like Bonnaroo or Coachella to music fans. To some attendees they represent an odd sort of pilgrimage (How many people do you know who say, “This is my 34th straight NAMM!”). To manufacturers, they become the place to launch new technologies, to meet customers, to gather leads. To researchers, they become a gathering of the best academic minds in the industry, an exchange of theories that leads to innovation years down the road. To everyone, they provide a chance to network, to renew old friendships and to have way-too-expensive dinners on the company credit card.

Virtual events by themselves are not the answer; we all know that. So many people are spending so much time on Zoom sessions these days that it’s unrealistic to expect anyone to spend three uninterrupted, 14-hour days in front of their computer. 

Things change. Models change. Industries change. There will be physical, in-person trade shows in the not-too-distant future. That’s a safe bet. But I think it’s also safe to say that live streaming, remote access and virtual interactions will be a part of the future of each and every trade show moving forward. Cataclysmic changes have always forced rapid and innovative technological adaptations. Already, in just a few short months, the platforms that host these virtual events have become much more sophisticated and feature-laden. They offer possibilities for access and connection that could never take place over the course of three days on a convention center floor. Yes, the social interaction is largely absent; but, there are a lot of other cool opportunities coming. And they will continue to get cooler.

Believe me, I would love to be in New York City in mid-October for the AES Convention, walking crosstown, then down 11th Avenue to Javits Center. Then a dinner downtown with Troy Germano, a visit to Ann Mincieli at Jungle City Studios, a chance to catch up with John Storyk. This was going to be my first year at Fab Dupont’s famous rooftop bash! Oh, well. None of that is going to happen. But I will tune in online each day for the month of October. 

In the meantime, provided everybody keeps wearing a mask, washing hands and taking smart precautions, I’ll see you all next year on one of my annual pilgrimages Stay safe!


Tom Kenny

Editor, Mix