Sixteen:Nine - All Digital Signage, Some Snark
David Labuskes, AVIXA

David Labuskes, AVIXA

September 22, 2021


There is a whole pile of back seat driving happening lately in the pro AV and digital signage communities about how to run a trade show in the COVID-19 era, and much of the focus has squarely been on Dave Labuskes, the CEO of AVIXA, which runs InfoComm and co-owns the even larger trade show ISE.

The show is happening in about a month in Orlando, and with other big trade shows saying never mind for 2021, there are endless questions and suggestions about the prospects of the show even happening.

It will, says Labuskes, unless there are measures like government-mandated closures. Given that the show is in Florida, that's probably not going to happen.

Labuskes has done some frank interviews lately that went into deep detail about InfoComm and COVID, and the business. I spoke with Labuskes late last week and did not see the value in rehashing and revisiting a lot of what he said, so in our chat we talk a little about how things will come off and why. But we spend a lot more time on bigger picture stuff about how trade shows fit, and whether a niche industry like digital signage can find a well-defined home and community at big, omni AV shows like Infocomm and ISE.

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Mr Labuskes, thank you for joining me. I wanted to get into a number of things, but I also didn't want to just rehash some recent conversations you had in an hour long interview last week with Tim Albright from AVnation that went into a lot of frank discussion about where InfoComm is at and everything associated with that, but I can’t cCompletely ignore that, and I just wanted to ask, where are things now , has anything changed in the last week since I watched that interview? 

Dave Labuskes: Mr. Haynes, it's good to be here. There have been a couple of other events that have announced cancellations, but there's been nothing that's changed in AVIXA's policy with regards to InfoComm. We still see a runway to a fantastic event with fantastic people conducting fantastic business.

It's been described as being the last trade show standing this fall, but that's not really true. There's all kinds of events going on here, there, and everywhere. 

Dave Labuskes: Yeah. There's a lot that's described that isn't necessarily really true, David. But yeah there's events and trade shows happening every day, all around the world, and I'm actually a little confused. For an industry that is really based on overcoming challenges and doing the impossible and making things happen that nobody believed could actually happen, there is that sort of a sentiment that trade shows can't take place right now and that just simply is not true. They're taking place every day. 

So I have mixed opinions personally. I was supposed to be doing a mixer down at InfoComm and decided not to do that, and that wasn't really so much about I don't think InfoComm should even happen or anything else, it was just as simply a fact of, I didn't quite see how a cocktail party, where everybody was wearing a mask and being asked to stand six feet apart would work terribly well and the optics were weird. 

It's one of those things where I could see a trade show happening, but I didn't see that happening well, and we don't need to get into all of that. I'm curious more about whether or not you're enjoying all the armchair opinions from people who say what you should be doing, but have never actually run a tradeshow? 

Dave Labuskes: Before I had this job, I was a partner at a large architectural engineering firm, and one of the gentlemen that was on the search committee that was interviewing me for this job, James Ford, owner of Ford AV and I'll never forget where he was sitting in the boardroom, he leaned forward and said, “Dave, you've got a really good gig, like why would you want this job?” And I'm like that's a great question, and I try to answer it, and he's like, “But Dave, here's the thing: You're running one of the largest consulting practices in the world and if you have a management meeting and you decide to go liveleft, then everybody's going to leave that meeting and they're going to go left, and the jobs that you're interviewing for you and your team are going to decide to go left, and then 50,000 people are going to tell you, you should go right!”

I actually celebrate varied opinions. I do think a lot of people express an expertise that is perhaps inflated in their own perception. Trade shows, they're a complicated industry. I've been doing this now for eight years and I have people on my team that have forgotten twice what I'll ever know. The interplay between the various different constraints, the challenges that people throw out there as though they're simple challenges. Yeah, they're a little frustrating, but I signed up for it. Nobody made me do this job. I was forewarned, so maybe I'm the one that has an exaggerated impression of my expertise.

Is part of the problem just simply that it's Florida and Florida is this eternally weird place at the best of times, but it's got a particular problem and people all the way up to the governor of the state who don't seem to recognize that, “Hey, maybe there's a bit of a problem happening here.”?

Dave Labuskes: Yeah. I think I'll be a little more politically correct than that, and it was nice for you to try it, but it isn't my first rodeo here. 

(Laughter) I wasn't trying to bait you. I just think that's a big part of it and the people, the armchair opinion makers who say why don't you just move it or why didn't you just do it in another city? There's a little bit of baggage associated with doing that but just simply speaking, it's a part of the country that has a particular exacerbated problem, but doesn't seem to want to recognize that it has an exacerbated problem.

Dave Labuskes: It all comes from the jurisdictions and it all comes down to point of reference, right? You can also just say, is it the problem that the event is in the United States, right? Because if you look at the United States and compare the United States to other countries, we're not necessarily getting a straight-A report card.

What I have said, and I know we don't want to have the same conversation I've had already with others, is that I don't think the brush that should be used in making that decision is Florida. I think the brush that we should use in painting that picture is Orange County. There's parts of California that may or may not be behaving in the same fashion you or I would do.

So I think you have to look at where are you going to fly into, where you're going to be, where are you going to have dinner, where are you going to sleep? Those types of things, and when you get to that stage orange county this morning had 79.4% of their population over the age 18 having had one shot of the vaccine. They've got a mask order that was issued by the mayor strongly recommending that masks be worn inside any public space. They've got plummeting hospitalization rates, death rates, positivity rates at 12.4%, I believe. 

So, I think, unfortunately the world and this country and all of the states have this polarization thing going on, and yeah, would it be more comfortable for people to attend an event somewhere else that are looking from afar and don't take time to do all that research? Probably. The headline, the abbreviated picture, is challenging, but I do think that there are people that are going to make a decision that attending a trade show weighed against other factors just isn't for them this year, and I think they'd make that decision regardless of where it is. 

Yeah. I guess that's the other thing that you didn't know you were signing up for was having an extensive ability to talk in genealogical terms.

Dave Labuskes: This is a true story, David. Last year, I came home from the office, and at dinner I said to my wife and son I spent an hour today reading a scientific study about the efficacy of washing your hands with cold water versus hot water, and that is not something I ever anticipated taking place in my career, I will admit that. (Laughter)

By the way, it is just as good. You just don't tend to wash them as long because it's less comfortable, but... 

I'm just impressed I was able to say epidemiology. 

Dave Labuskes: Happy with that. These are words that were not part of our vocabulary two years ago, right? 

Just drafting off of some of that: CEDIA which AVIXA has a relationship with because you co-own ISC had their event last week or the week before in Indianapolis and I won't go into how that went business-wise or anything else, but I'm curious if you had AVIXA folks there and did they see how things were done? I know they had signage and kind of cues on whether you are comfortable with people coming close and all that sort of stuff. Did those things work? 

Were there things that you learned from that you can take away and apply to InfoComm? 

Dave Labuskes: First part of the question: No, we didn't have anybody from AVIXA at that event that I'm aware of. Not that I know of, but I'm sure there were people there that were AVIXA members. We do have a close relationship with CEDIA. Obviously we have a partnership over a very large joint venture that owns and operates ISC and ISR and DSS. The show itself is owned by Emerald Expositions, and we have our conversational talking relationship with Emerald as well. In fact I have a call next week with Emerald to talk through lessons learned. 

I was in Louisville, Kentucky a couple of weeks ago at a SISO conference, which is the Society of Independent Show Operators. So it's Emerald, Informa, and mostly the for-profit trade show organizers and AVIXA was invited to attend. The industry of trade show organizers and meeting planners and event planners, we've joined arms and we recognize that this is a problem for all of us that we have to share best practices with, we have to share learnings with, we have to talk about what works and doesn't work.

It's kinda like the AV industry and as I'm learning more about it, the digital signage industry where people compete, but they also have a comradery where a rising tide lifts all ships kind of a thing, and so I think all trade show operators are working through this, associations as well are famously collaborating with regards to sharing information and learning and helping each other. So that's a good part of the pandemic. 

I would imagine one of the things that all these organizations collectively learned, if they didn't already know it, is that the whole virtual trade show thing just really doesn't work. Does it?

Dave Labuskes: It certainly didn't work in v1.0 of 2020. I think v1.5, and we're starting to get closer to 2.0, I think there's hope for it. The best visual I saw over the last 18 months is talking about books versus movies, and you don't convert a book to a movie by putting it on a podium and filming somebody turning the pages. And I think that probably is a closely apt description of what we all did with our first version of the virtual events. But I think you can tell a story, very effectively in print or in film, leveraging and celebrating the differences of the media. 

Where I am at now and where AVIXA is driving towards, and you'll see more developments about this in the next couple months is more about how AVIXA delivers on its mission, leveraging physical  events and digital platforms, and how do they interface and interact with each other? How do they mutually benefit each other? What's good in one, that's not good in the other?

Not a lot of good, special effects when you're reading a book, but a lot of great imagination when you're reading a book. Not a lot of ability to be character development through introspection in a movie, but it's really easy to do that when you're reading.

I think if you look at education, you look at delivery of information from provider to consumer, that can be done pretty effectively digitally. I think about human interaction and the break time during class is almost impossible to create digitally. That doesn't mean it is impossible. So I see a lot of assumptions that we made in order to achieve X, we needed to convene people face-to-face being challenged. But I also think that all of the pundits that got online in March and April of last year and said, this is the end of face-to-face, and we're going to be digital for the rest of our lives, have seen that they were probably not right with that either. 

I think the one thing that I took away, or what I have enjoyed about these virtual events is the ability to attend round tables panels presentations on demand. So I don't need to be somewhere or sit at a certain place, set aside things then at 10:00 AM, I'm going to watch this.

Just the simple fact that I got stuff going on. I can't do this today or right now, that I could click on it and see. Yeah, somebody from Brand X explaining this to me on my terms, and if I'm bored, I just click out, I don't have to stand up and walk out of the room and embarrass the presenter or anything like that. That part I like.

Dave Labuskes: I do too, and that's the irony of it is. If one of the things that all of us like is the absence of time and geography constraints, right? So it doesn't matter if that panel discussions take place in London or Nova Scotia or Orlando, you can still receive the outcome of that panel. 

Why are we saying that they should be organized and delivered between 9:00 AM and 4:00 PM Eastern time on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week? That's where I get to this. I think it's more about a digital presence and digital community, a place where people interact when it's appropriate for them to interact, where they can organize their interaction times.

I'm old enough to have been in chat rooms on Prodigy and AOL and you remember you would organize with people like I'm going to be on at eight o'clock tonight for an hour, because you can only afford an hour. Because we were charged by the minute, and then I think that's what we have to recognize. So in that regard, I'm really excited about the fact that I'm not a trade show organizer, instead I’m an association that is committed to an industry and an industry community, and what I can do is build that community both digitally and physically. 

What do you think of the suggestion that the days of the big macro show are cloudy and that regionalized events make more sense, so an InfoComm Southwest, an ISE UK, that sort of thing? And granted that was tried a little bit in the past year, but that was out of necessity as opposed to design. 

Dave Labuskes: Yeah, I'm intrigued by it. But I think the loudest proponents of it are the attendees, not the exhibitors and the attendees don't pay. Doing ten small shows only costs a little less than doing one big show or less than doing then ten times doing one big show. The cost of doing a show has a fixed amount. Even in the smallest show, you're going to pay an X and then get to the big show, you may only be paying 2X where if you're doing a regional show, like 10 times, you are close to 10X, and your ROI on each of those events is smaller because your audience is small. 

Now that's using all the old rules. So if we go back to the last question, if I can segment an audience for an exhibitor and say, I'm going to bring people that have spending authority over half a million dollars that have a project next three months, it's going to require a high-end audio system. That's going to change that algebra, and so I don't think you throw it out the window, but economics has a factor in these things and it's easy to say I would rather go to a small event in Nashville, but the problem is I have to find somebody to pay for it, and even if you say I'm happier to go to a small event in Nashville, I bet you don't want to spend $195 for a ticket to go to that event? 

I get the hunger for it. I get the desire for it, but I don't see a business model around it right now. We've never been successful at small events being profitable. There have been good strategies like, before ISE launched. We did small roadshow events from country to country, it was before my time, but I hear stories from the old timers about the amazing sort of experience of going from hotel room or hotel conference to hotel conference across from Warsaw to Budapest to Rome type thing. And we've done them in advance of launching our Bangkok show. We did it in advance of launching our Mumbai show, but those become feeders to a larger event that has a more sustainable business model. We did a lot of what we used to call round tables, for example, we did the AVIXA round table in Baltimore where you'd have 15, 20, maybe 30 people come to them, and so you were spending a lot of money on an event that served 15, 20 or 30 people, and we just felt like there were better ways of spending the industry's money than that. 

The demise of Digital Signage Expo certainly raised the eyebrows at AVIXA and got you guys thinking, although you've always had digital signage as a component, you've had pavilions for many years, but there was an opportunity and a sense that something needed to fill that void. Granted, it's been refilled to some degree since then, but the show hasn't happened yet so we'll see how that comes off. 

How do you build up the digital signage affinity for InfoComm? Cause I've gone for many years, but I go to have a look at the gear. I'm not a gear head, but I write about it and everything else, but I don't really see it as an end-user show where a big retailer, those kinds of people are going to come to that they maybe they send their gearheads, but more likely it's the integrators that sell into big retail and so on are there are there, so how do you make all that kind of come together over the next couple of years?

Dave Labuskes: Boy, there's so much in that question, David. We should talk more often, I enjoy this.

Yes, it is an unfortunate demise and it didn't get folks in the AVIXA thinking. Yes, we've been looking at the digital signage industry for a long time. I do think it's a community within the larger industry that needs to be celebrated, and that's that other point with regards to small regional shows versus big shows. I think we see lots more shows within shows taking place, and I think that's probably the right solution, and I'm biased. I think AVIXA has the right place to build a home within a home for the digital signage community. 

First of all: there was this interesting dynamic between the association and the show operator, right? From an association perspective AVIXA has been having conversations with DSF, with DS-LATAM, with digital signage of Asia, and the various different entities in Europe. When you move from our association to association, one of the ways I think I actually described it to Rich Ventura, he and I were talking probably years ago and it's like you and I, David, are best friends, but our dads owns the competing gas stations on the corner, and so we can go to school and everything and be friends there but when we came home there's limits. 

That was kinda how I felt like it was and I felt like there's a window there to not have that dynamic. Now, some of that's changed and I respect Questex. I respect Paul and don't know him well, but I know him and I've had conversations with him and he's a smart guy and I believe he's committed to delivering a successful event. I think it's being honest, looking at what does an organization want, what is the community best one? And making honest agreements and commitments to each other, and then keeping them. There are advantages to working together, and I think the end goal is that “home within a home” and “a community within a community.” 

I think the challenge and opportunity for digital signage and InfoComm is the scale of the InfoComm show and the specificity and the heart and relationship with the digital signage community, and I think if we work together, we can build that home within a home. I think it can be more than a guest room. It can be an in-law apartment. It can be a place where it's identified and that's, yeah, I'm disappointed that you're not going to be there, and I know the mixture is just one manifestation of that home within a home, and we look forward to being able to do it in the future. 

Absolutely. One of the logistical problems or mechanical problems, so to speak, with a big show like an InfoComm is: yes, you've created these pavilions through the years of digital signage pavilion and some of the vendors have been in that, designated zone, so to speak, but the biggest players are the display manufacturers, and they've always had their spots, their Primo spots, and they're serving a whole bunch of audiences at InfoComm, not just the digital signage people. So how do you figure out a way to create a show within a show when you've got Sony in the front row, Samsung's got a giant booth in the middle of the hall and so on. You're never going to be able to herd them all into one hall, so to speak? 

Dave Labuskes: Yeah, so what do you do then? I think what you have to do and we're down to the details of tactics, right? But I think you start to curate attendees' journeys. You use content as the honey to attract and people will come where content is and content can be delivered where people are, and that's the challenge of starting a trade show, but we've done that. We know how to form a trade show and it takes time and it takes continual feeding until it becomes a self-feeding cycle, and then you have to create a journey that is guided a bit so the attendees that are coming from retail or the attendees that are coming from the advertising agencies can get to where they will be able to extract value and some of that will require tour guides, not maps and serendipity, because it's too big to just let somebody lose, but we have that problem now with end users in general at the show, you described as gearheads, but about 40% of the attendees at a typical InfoComm are end user buyers. It's part of what makes that show so valuable to exhibitors. 

A lot of them are brought there by channel members. The consultants are bringing their customers, the integrators are bringing their customers. But a lot of them are brought there by us too, with promoting them and developing conference content that would be of interest to them, creating a nucleus of community. It's all very explicit, but it doesn't happen by chance. There are hosted buyers that are brought in to shows around the world. There are groups that are sponsored. There are other associations that are partnered with. Richard runs our Asian subsidiary. He's a genius at identifying influential associations within the geographies and partnering with them to offer programs. Organizations like the Indian Architects Association are partnered with our InfoComm Mumbai event, and they are holding content conferences for architects in conjunction with our event. All of our channels want architects at it. Those types of strategies are part of the town and the team that works on these.

Last question, looking ahead a few months to ISE and it's hard to do the crystal ball thing, but I gather things are calmer in Spain. I don't hear very many people at all saying, hell no, we're not going to Barcelona or anything else, maybe that'll bubble up, who knows? But is ISC in Barcelona going to be normal-ish?

Dave Labuskes: Yes, I think so. Again, like you said, the crystal balls are not crystal clear and now, after the last series of conversations, I think I'm going to put the crystal ball into the same place where I put “pivot” and “agile” and “unprecedented” but yeah, the biggest indicator that you would have about and event like ISC at this stage five months out is sold show floor space, right? 

I don't think we've even opened registration for attendees yet, and show floor sales are, I think they're probably about 8% off of 2020. I guess there's no such thing as quoting me because we're recording this, but it's within that ballpark of the size of the last event at the Rye, which is, really the last event to compare it to. So if it's 90% of that size, 80% of that size, I think that's, that absolutely fits into your technical definition of normal. 

And there were lots of people who said, because you're going to Barcelona, as awesome a place as it is, it may mean you see a slight drop because people who might go to ISC in Amsterdam, because they can drive there, maybe would not go all the way to Barcelona? 

Dave Labuskes: Yeah, but there's other people that are going to drive to Barcelona that wouldn't have driven to Amsterdam. And yeah not a hundred percent a repeat audience, but…

Well, I’m not driving to Barcelona. 

Dave Labuskes: Yeah, me neither. (Laughter)

That's those armchair spectators that you talked about earlier, right? We did the homework to make a determination about that, and we love the Rye. We would love to have stayed at the Rye, but the Rye isn’t big enough to hold the show as it was moving forward in the future and it was starting to have a negative impact on attendee experience and you start to have those different factors impact a show and reach the value of the show. 

I'll just be happy if I can find my way around. 

Dave Labuskes: Yeah, it's a beautiful city. I'll tell you what it's like. It's the opposite of the Rye. It was one of the things I joked with Mike about. Finally I figured out how to get through the Eye without getting lost, and now we've decided to move the show. 

Yeah, me too. 

All right. I appreciate you taking some time with me. I suspect you're a busy fellow these days.

Dave Labuskes: Never too busy for you, sir. Congratulations on your recent deal. I'm really happy for you. 

Thank you!

Paul Miller, Questex

Paul Miller, Questex

June 23, 2021


When news broke back in March that the live events and publishing firm Questex had bought the assets of Digital Signage Expo, there was, understandably, a lot of interest and speculation about whether that might mean the defunct trade show and conference would be revived.

It will be, likely around the same timeframe as the past, and back in Las Vegas. It is also likely it will have the same name - though it might just be called DSE. 

What's also clear is that it will not be a simple re-boot of the old show - which makes perfect sense, since the Digital Signage Expo that ran for 15+ years would politely be described as spinning its wheels - with attendance flatlined and exhibitor counts shrinking.

I contacted Questex when news first broke of the DSE assets being acquired at auction, and have had a few conversations since then with the company, including its CEO Paul Miller.

I wasn't sure how much he could tell me, but we had a terrific, very open chat about what went down, and his company's thinking around a new and different DSE in 2022. 

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David: Paul. Thank you for joining me. Who is Questex? 

Paul Miller: Hi, Dave, thanks for having me first and foremost. Questex is a media and information services business that produces events alongside its media sites. We have been in existence as a company for about 15 years, just over. We are a company that focuses on really five or six markets, that is the life sciences and healthcare markets, the technology markets, and then we also focus on the areas of travel hospitality & wellness, and all of that is wrapped up around a focus on the experience economy. That's who we are and we do events, we do media websites, we do all kinds of connecting of buyers and sellers in those areas. 

David: So of those properties that you have in the context of the Pro AV world, what would people who are listening to this most likely know, LDI or the Nightclub & Bar Show? 

Paul Miller: Yeah. They would probably know our Nightclub & Bar Show in Las Vegas, mainly because that would have been in history. Some cases would collaborate with DSE and in some cases would just sit alongside so they would know that. 

They probably would know the Lighting Dimension Show, the LDI show that you mentioned. Yeah, that's also one that is quite well known in this space. I would say outside of that, there are events that I think are relevant in the hotel area, in the spa area, in the gym area where we’re connecting owners of hotels & operators of hotels and gyms and spas with various people that want to sell into those spaces. So of course digital signage is a huge area for all of those end users. So they may not know those, but certainly, I think they're areas that we think are very relevant. 

David: We'll get into acquiring assets of DSE, but I was curious when that happened, so I looked up Questex to see who they are and how they work and I get a sense that your typical approach is you have publishing wing as a foundational thing that kind of sets the content for that particular vertical market, and then you grow and market the live event off of that. Is that a fair assessment? 

Paul Miller: Yeah, I think that's a good assessment, Dave.

We believe that we should be engaged with communities 365 days through the year because people don't always wait for an event before they make their decision. So we want to help them through that buying process through content that attracts them to our websites. As they interact with that content, we like to use that data to produce what we would consider a very relevant show. So when you come to the show, it's content that's been popular throughout the year, probably speakers that have been writing content that you can come and meet live. So we see a full connection between how people in the B2B world look for content, and how they go through that buying process, and the event is part of that. 

In many cases, it's an exciting part of it, because people come to actually buy. In some cases, they come to network. In some cases, they come to get educated, and in some cases, all three. So, that idea that we would just do an event, and then see you next year is not really in our DNA. We're more, “Hey, we want to serve you throughout the year, and we'd love to see you live at the event if relevant.” 

David: And I also get a sense that that the events look different depending on the vertical. So you don't necessarily do a full trade show with exhibits for a certain vertical because it really doesn't fit, whereas, for other verticals, it may. 

Paul Miller: That actually is a really astute comment. I think sometimes in our world, not the digital signage world. This is our world at Questex. We sometimes talk about events a little bit like somebody saying, “I'm going on vacation to Africa,” and your first question is what country you're going to because you’re going to have a different experience depending on where you're going. 

In the events world too, there are various flavors. In some events, it truly is sort of a cash and carry. You bring in your goods, you set up your store and people come in and they buy your goods, and there's nothing wrong with that at all. By the way, I do not think that applies to digital signage, certainly on the whole, but that there is a flavor of event that we do that sort of emulates that, that is very much you come in to buy stuff and the exhibitors are there to sell stuff and success is how much did I sell, frankly?

And then there are the educational type events which sort of surround large conferences. I think you'd be familiar with these: great speakers, good education, and some really good networking off-piece at the hotel bar afterward, et cetera, and then you can get into some really specific events which are matchmaking buyers with sellers. This particular buyer is looking for this solution and we're going to put you in a room with this seller. They tend to be more intimate, very VIP, in some cases, we will host those buyers. So we tend to be, and I think your comment is right on. We tend to look for what fits what element of the market at the right time.

I think where it gets exciting, Dave, and this probably leads us into sort of our thoughts around the Digital Signage Expo is that in many cases you can do all three. You can have a great conference, you can have a great show, trade show floor, and you can do great matchmaking, and it doesn't work all the time. We have a feeling that it is relevant to DSE from what we've been hearing from the market, but you're absolutely right on the money. We don't really have a one size fits all approach as a company, and I think given the communities we serve, that would be very difficult for us to shoehorn in certain templates if you will. 

David: Right. So back in, I think you said it was April, but you acquired the assets of Exponation. What did you actually acquire? 

Paul Miller: We acquired the assets of Digital Signage Expo which would have included the trademarks, the websites, the database, the customer database. I think that was about it. A few other URLs, websites that sort of surrounded the industry a little bit. But everything that Exponation had that was DSE-related is what we acquired. 

David: And how did that happen? Was there like a Broker who came to you and said, “Hey, we have this”, or do you have people who just pay attention to this sort of thing? 

Paul Miller: No, it was strange, to be honest. The last year has been strange in many ways. Firstly, we’re very aware at Questex of DSC. We had, as mentioned at the start, we had seen the show, we had visited the show. I wandered over to the show while at our Nightclub & Bar event.

David: Just to sober up? (Laughter)

Paul Miller: Yeah, actually, just to see what it's like at a B2B show that isn't serving alcohol, which is a different field, and actually we had been impressed for many years with the show. We certainly didn't really know the understories and what was really going on, but from a very shallow view, I would say, the show looked very professional. There were great companies, and there was good buzz, and we always said to each other that, that looks like a great event, and that was about it, just for the record. 

Then I forget the actual timing, but sometime in the fall of last year, we obviously saw the story that Exponation had filed for Chapter 7, and that sort of alerted us about that a lot of us that are in the events business, the pandemic has been devastating. It wasn't that it was a surprise, but to be honest as having that sort of very narrow and shallow knowledge of the show, we were like, wow that's a shame that, that was a good looking event and we're probably going to see more of this was our initial reaction. Then what happened, Dave is that we got a notice from, I think it was the bankruptcy court. I can't remember who it was, but anyway, we got a notice that the assets were going to be auctioned to help raise funds, for those people that the debt was owed to if you will.

So we said, okay we like these assets and we've got some things that we could bring to the event, or this was before we knew, by the way, that might be relevant. So we entered into an auction process and it was the first time in my career that I've ever been through such a process and it truly was a person on the phone, basically banging the gavel and saying, “Yep,  sold to the people at the back,” and that ended up being us. We obviously then did a lot of homework before we went into the auction. We got our hands around a little bit. What was the size of the show? What was the target audience for the show? What do we think we could bring to the show? And it checked a lot of boxes for us. Yeah, we went into the auction seriously and we won that auction, and then, of course, you find what actually have we acquired? And that was a fascinating sort of few weeks of research. 

David: I've spoken with you in the past, I've spoken with someone else from your company and a consultant, Brent Gleason, who you've engaged to help out with this. 

I'm curious, as you've done your kind of due diligence and exploration of the industry, what have you been hearing about the industry, your impressions on that, but also, we can go from there to what are you going to do? 

Paul Miller: Sure. So firstly I have to say, and I think you know this that there wasn't a lot of ho-hum type of commentary in the research when we went to the industry. People were very passionate about space, very passionate about this product. Not all of it positive. I think there've been some negative experiences for certain people, but what we did find, Dave, was that this is an industry that is going through terrific growth and that growth looks to be sustainable, certainly, through the next half a decade if not beyond in our opinion, so great sort of 7.5% CAGR growth rates, touches a lot of verticals, and I know that people listening and yourself would know this, but this was our learning, touching verticals as diverse as healthcare, through to retail, through to hotels, houses of worship, hotels. So that was really interesting for us.

We also found and heard that the industry actually wanted a place to gather. They do see this as an industry that has its unique personality. It's not all about one thing or another thing, and there are definitely some trends that are coming in, the digital out of home space for instance, that in my opinion, is akin to what happened between print and the internet, back in the late nineties, a lot of data starts to be kicked off and a lot of backend technology starts to get into play. With digital signage becoming the forefront of that, it's where people first interact. So we got very excited very quickly. Some of the comments frankly, were hard to swallow or people saying, “Hey, the event was not what it used to be.” “It was starting to lose a little bit of its luster.” 

Obviously when the show was canceled last year. Some people were really quite upset about the lack of refunds and what went on there, and I fully understand that. We had to cancel a lot of events last year as well. It was a very tough scenario for everybody, but the industry we felt as we got into it had an opinion, and it was a strong opinion and people wanted to talk. We had incoming people calling us saying, “I want to talk to you about what you've bought here and let you know what you've got.”

And actually Brad was one of those, by the way, Brad said, look, I have a lot of history with the show, and I'd love to help reinvent it along the lines that I feel, and I think what the industry feels it should have been going in any way. So look, we have the ability to “start again” in many ways. I don't think the Exponation had that ability. They had a product, they had to try to grow that product. We've acquired a set of assets, but we have a real strong ability to listen to the community and try to create a new experience for the community that they're telling us they want. And that's unique. So, we purposely were have been extremely patient. We just said, let's listen, and the more we listen, the more we're finding that the industry wants an event, it wants a place to gather, but it doesn't really want your grandmother's DSC. 

I think the event has reached its limit, if you will, in terms of value and people wanted to do something else going forward, without losing some of the great things about the event, seems like it was a fantastic place for the industry to network and meet once a year. We don't want to lose that. That's a super reason for having an event. So, it's been a real experience. I mean, this is a very good acquisition from my experience, acquired through auction had gone into Chapter 7 through the pandemic and it has a set of stakeholders that really want to have a say. I mean, nobody said, sorry, I don't want to talk about it, or, I don't really have a comment. Everybody had something to say and I think that's great. That shows some passion. It shows some engagement. It’s just that not all of the comments were positive, I have to be honest.

David: Oh, for sure. When we chatted in the past, I said, I don't think there's enough to do at a trade show with a whole bunch of exhibit stands and everything, the way it was done in the past. There's a diminishing number of companies that want to spend those kinds of dollars, and I just didn't see it. Is that what you’re hearing more broadly? 

Paul Miller: Not really, no. I get your point, and we actually gave people the ability to tell us what they really want. Now, I will say that the number one thing that's coming back is that we want to meet people that are going to buy our product. So we want to meet, we don't really want to just get together and talk to each other. But it's a very expensive meeting to just talk to other people in the industry. So there's been a lot of questions to us like, do you reach people in the hotel industry? Do you reach people in the restaurant space? Do you reach people in other areas where digital signage is needed and can be engaged with? 

And when we've explained, as I did up top, that these are the markets we're in, people have gone, if you can get those folks to attend an event, we absolutely will bring a booth and we absolutely will exhibit, but you gotta bring buyers. You're not going to get away with putting up an exhibit and meeting without competitors across the aisle, that’s not enough. 

David: Right. I know with Exponation, they worked their butts off trying to get brands to show up, to a level that they were putting them on advisory boards and things like that, just to make them feel like they should be there. 

Paul Miller: Yeah. Look, I've been in the events space for sort of 25 years. It is not easy, particularly when, and this is where it comes back to the strategy of Questex, I think compared with Exponation, we're a huge believer in content.

I think I've said this to you before content is still king or queen, but the kingdom is data. Once you have people and you've attracted them, around content, it's really about understanding what their needs are, what they're looking for, engaging with them, and I think if you're a pure-play event company, what you do is you put on an event once a year, you're sort of reliant on a lot of partners to produce that content for you, and not in your environment. So you don't get the data as much, and I think that makes it very difficult in complete deference to what Exponation was trying to do. 

I think they were trying to do the right thing, but when you don't have that daily engagement with the community, it's quite hard to hit it out of the park on every single thing. You're going to find your content probably gets a bit tired, sometimes the loudest voice gets to be the speaker, as opposed to the one that everybody wants to hear. There are certain things that data takes out of the room. It takes that emotion out of the room and it says like this audience is engaging with this type of content, that's what they want to see live. That I think gives you a little bit more data-driven decision-making around what the industry wants, as opposed to my gut feel or what somebody just told me at the bar last week at the show. 

David: So, based on everything you've been hearing, everything your team has been doing, do you have the bones of an idea of what we’re going to see?

Paul Miller: Yeah we do. I think that's a good description. I'm not sure we're fully fleshed out, but I can certainly tell you a few things that we're going to do. 

Number one, we are going to relaunch the show. Just to be clear from the top, we are going to relaunch the show. We do think that the show has to be repositioned somewhat to be a broader show to bring in those customers, as I mentioned, We're looking at experiences around a broad-based agenda of life and business and mid the re-emergence of society and the global economy. So this is more about where does digital signage fit in the “roaring 20S”? So we are looking to bring back the event. We're looking at next Spring and we are looking at Las Vegas. I can't go much further than that at this point in time, because we are obviously trying to secure venues and we're trying to secure dates, and that by the way, is easier said than done in a post-pandemic environment and everybody wants dates.

But we do have our Nightclub & Bar rebranded as our Bar & Restaurant event in Las Vegas next spring. There's the possibility of bringing that together again if you will. We will have an exhibit floor but also adding things like show floor experiences, very inclusive. You know, “let's demonstrate some applications, do some showcases, have some themed presentation stages.” So a lot of buzz on the show floor, but at the same time, a really engaging conference program, lots of curated presentations, tracks based on innovative applications, why do this, what are the outcomes, what you should be looking for?

And last but not least we are hoping to have multiple layers of networking at the event. That's one thing that this community told us is, “Please don't lose the networking!” 

As I think, you know more than I know, great parties, great places for the industry to come together and celebrate, learn to buy, to sell. So yeah, we were even looking at guides around Las Vegas itself, tours of installations so people can learn, form real-life applications, not just what somebody might tell you what could happen. Let's curate some tours, and we do that by the way, for our Bar & Restaurant event, we take people behind the scenes at a Nightclub behind the scenes of a Vegas restaurant, so they can see everything from point of sale applications through to what's going on in the kitchen, and how does the food come out? We think that the audience, the community is telling us it wants more, hands-on more, show me what works, more education, more demos and bring it all together as an event that is an experience beyond just, ”I walk the show floor and I meet a couple of friends at the bar.”

David: Yeah. I've certainly heard many times and when I did a little survey asking about, where should a trade show go? The comment that's stuck in my head was, I know when I go to something like DSE, I'm landing, and that's what I'm doing that week, or for the next two, three days, that's my subject matter versus an ISE or an InfoComm, which are great shows, but they're Omni shows covering a whole bunch of different vertical industries and technologies and everything else and you don't have this aggregate of people who are just there for digital signage. Now you could go to a party and talk to 20 people, and they're all doing things that have nothing to do with digital signage, but they're in AV. 

Paul Miller: Yeah, by the way, I think both are relevant. A lot of respect for ISE and InfoComm and the AVIXA Association in general, I think they do great stuff by the way.

And I think there is relevance in attending a show that is broader than just the sort of industry that you're in. I think that's where you do see adjacencies and ideas that might be applicable. But what was loud and clear from this community was we wanted our own place. There's enough going on in the digital signage space for us to need to focus on our industry, our solutions, our ecosystem for us to want our own place, and that, by the way, was one of the key learnings over the last 8 to 10 weeks of listening to people. 

There wasn't one person who said, I don't think the industry needs its own place. There are a few people who said can I afford the time to go to all of these events? And I think that's a relevant comment and that's all about saying, well, we have to win your respect to get your time, and we have to have a program that you walk away after two or three days or a week, and you go, “Wow, I'm going to recommend this to my friends because these guys really put something on that it creates a fear of missing out if I'm not there, and I think more importantly than all of that actually creates business interactions. People actually do write orders and they do write RFPs at the event.” That's what we're here for at the end of the day. 

So yeah, I think the need for an event that's focused on this particular community is clear: that's actually a box that was checked very clearly. it wasn't a 50-50 decision.

David: There will be people who listen to this and think that's great that you're doing a show, but spring in Las Vegas or just spring in general in the trade show industry is very crowded. There's a lot going on and you're putting this in between ISC and InfoComm, which are AV shows, there's NAB, all these other ones that happening around then there, I've heard many people say it would be lovely if an event like this was in the fall instead.

Paul Miller: Yeah. Unfortunately, the fall is also busy. It's got its own interesting issues and particularly around the pandemic where shows have been moved around, and they're off cycles. The feedback that we got, Dave, was again, you're right, “It's crowded. Please don't put it over the top of another show because we don't want to be forced into a decision. Do we go to this or this?” 

The feedback we got was, “We liked where it was before,” which was, around that April timeframe, spring timeframe. So we've taken that into account and we didn't have any huge set of people saying, “Hey, move it to November or get it out of the way.” The other option we had by the way was to think about, do we put it alongside our lighting show, which is in the fall, October, November. 

The more we get into it, the more it becomes clear to us that actually, the lighting show is not as relevant as an audience, they tend to be lighting designers, people that are doing the rigging of lighting, et cetera. A better audience would be people that are buying stuff for their restaurant for us. So yeah, we're never going to get a date that's going to satisfy everybody, unfortunately. Our feeling is we have the best chance to bring the right set of buyers to this event in the spring of next year. 

David: And if you do it somewhat in tandem with an existing show like your Bar & Restaurant show, I imagine there's some efficiency around Ops people, like, you don't have to bring double the staff. You may bring more than you would for one show, but not of double compliment. 

Paul Miller: Yeah, the efficiencies come with, obviously the show place itself. So if we do go to the Las Vegas convention center, obviously you get efficiency. If you do two in one, if you will. 

From our team perspective, maybe Dave, in terms of we could send seven people rather than two sets of five, for instance, which is where I think you're going. But I'm not sure, I think what we're looking at for this event is and also by the way, for the Bar & Restaurant event, as you can imagine, the experiences there are pretty high end. You've got people launching new dreams. You've got people launching new bar and restaurant concepts. So I think that it would be the same as at a reinvigorated DSE. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm not looking for cost efficiencies, let me put it that way. That wouldn't be the reason for doing it. 

David: When do you think you'll have a launch or an announcement saying we're going to do this? 

Paul Miller: We're in the midst of recruiting an advisory board. We're getting some great traction there, by the way. I can give you a few names if that helps. I would say we are a matter of weeks away from a full announcement and maybe not many weeks. 

David: Yeah, and I guess you really have to be because planning cycles are long, right? People are already budgeting for 2022. 

Paul Miller: We gotta get moving, yeah.

It's not just the budgeting aspect of this. It's the sales team that has to be implemented. You've got to have your content team in place. Your advisory board needs to meet so we can start to get around the sort of flavor of the show. So no, we gotta get our skates on, no doubt about it.

David: So who are some of your advisors that you can say? 

Paul Miller: Some that I can say, and by the way, there are a number of others that we think are going to be really exciting for the community to hear about, but we've got Rich Ventura, B2B Business line manager at Sony, I think previously the chairman of the DSF. We've got Rick Robinson, Chief Strategy Officer for Billups, leading voice in the out-of-home industry, and by the way, a play on the advisory board, just for the record is these four quadrants, there's the industry veterans, those people that really know this space, the new voices, and the new faces. We said we're going to reinvigorate, let's get some new voices. So Jackie Walker, digital signage subject matter expert at Publicis Sapient is one of those. 

We've got a number of others. Laura Davis Taylor retail & reality, we've got some people here that I think are going to bring some really great new voices and faces alongside the veterans, also strategic partners that we're looking at, and of course, people like yourself in the media. We'd like to have a balance of all of the above and if we're going to deliver on our promise of a reinvigorated show, I think the definition of insanity is doing something the same way and then expecting a different outcome, so we've got to make some changes here and reinvigorate the advisory board, get new names and voices and faces involved, but don't throw away the baby with the bathwater either, make sure you've still got the people that know what they're talking about. 

David: The last question I suppose is will it be called Digital Signage Expo or it'd be something else, or is that TBD?

Paul Miller: Yeah, that's a great question. We have, interestingly, sometimes for how things happen without doing more sort of fundamental research, but internally we're using the DSE acronym quite a lot. I don't know is it Digital Signage Expo? Is it Digital Signage Experience? Is it DSE? At the moment where we're sticking with brand equity. Words and all that come with digital signage expo, but it's interesting internally, and we do refer a lot to it as DSE, and sometimes that just turned into the experience as opposed to the expo. So a little bit more about the industry, a little bit less about the product itself.

I would say a personal front, from what I've heard from customers, Digital Signage Expo is fine. People are calling it DSE anyway, and I don't know if I want to go through a massive rebranding exercise at the same time we're doing a relaunch of the event. 

David: Yeah. It's more of the communications and the people you bring on board and everything else. 

Paul Miller: I think so, yeah. At the end of the day, I think it is: have we delivered a product that people go to and say you know what, these guys are on the path to creating a must-go-to event, we did some business, it was great to meet the community again, and I learned a lot. If we can check those boxes, I think we can then start to think about, okay, what now? And at the moment, we're just fully focused on producing something that people walk away from Vegas going, “These guys nailed it, they listened and we've got an event that's a must go for our industry, and they want to listen to some more on how we can make improvements from stage one.”

So I think at the end of the day, that's what really matters. Yes, people have a lot of opinions. Yes, there's a lot of baggage. Yes, there's a lot of words that we're using right now that I hope resonate with the industry. But at the end of the day, it's did we deliver? 

David: All right, Paul, thank you. I appreciate your time. 

Paul Miller: Dave, it's a pleasure. Thanks for having me.


Michael Schneider, Gensler (from InfoComm Connected 2020)

Michael Schneider, Gensler (from InfoComm Connected 2020)

July 8, 2020


I was kinda sorta off last week and did not record a new interview, but I have this audio track from a recent online event that's well worth sharing.

The pandemic shifted InfoComm 2020 from Las Vegas to online last month, and one of many educational sessions held at InfoComm Connected was about experiential design.

I was the host, and my guest was Michael Schneider of the giant global design firm Gensler. I've known Michael for a few years, first at ESI Design and now at the New York City offices of Gensler, where he runs the Media Architecture team.

The session was called Designing Contact-Free Building Experiences, and was a chat about how the global health care crisis is forcing a re-think of using and navigating public and commercial building spaces.

Where much of the experience in big buildings lately has been about Wow Factor, health safety and utility are now in the mix.

The session was a video call, with a chat recorded ahead of time and then live Q&A. About 20 minutes in, you will hear the tech jump in with a few questions.

I'll have a fresh podcast, with transcription, next week.

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2019 DSF Coffee And Controversy

2019 DSF Coffee And Controversy

October 30, 2019

A couple of weeks back I was in New York for the annual Digital Signage Federation Coffee and Controversy event, which I moderated.

I was able to grab audio last year and post as a podcast, and this year we managed the same. The audio is OK, at best, but you should be able to hear just fine.

Your big challenge will be discerning who is saying what, because the session was me and five great panelists, all with terrific insights and experience.

The topic was privacy and proof, as it relates to tech being used for retail and advertising insights. The speakers were:
- Dylan Gilbert, Policy Fellow at DC-based PublicKnowledge
- Laura Davis-Taylor, the Co-Founder of Atlanta's HighStreet Collective & LivingRetailLab
- Kym Frank, President of New York-based Geopath
- Amy Avery, Chief Intelligence Officer at New York agency Droga5
- Jeremy Bergstein, CEO of New York agency The Science Project

By all accounts it was a great session that could have gone another hour or more. The DSF is working on video clips, as well, which will be available to its membership.

Please note it is double the length of a "normal" 16:9 podcast.

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Paul Peng, AUO

Paul Peng, AUO

September 25, 2019

 I was in Taiwan recently for a trade show called Touch Taiwan, and managed to grab 20 minutes with Paul Peng, the Chairman and CEO of display manufacturing giant AU Optronics.

AUO is based in Taiwan, with its main office about an hour south of Taipei in the manufacturing city of Hsinchu. The company has about 42,000 employees globally, including a digital signage business unit that came with the acquisition of the CMS software company ComQi.

AUO makes LCD displays primarily, with a production line that can do glass sizes from Gen 3.5 to 8.5. The bigger the size, the bigger the display.

At one of the two biggest stands at Touch Taiwan, AUO was showing the wide range of display options, from stretch LCDs for retail and transport applications to super-premium 8K displays.

We grabbed some chairs at the back of the AUO stand for the chat, and while Peng does most of the talking, ComQi CEO Ifti Ifhar also gets in on the discussion. The audio quality is a little iffy, just because of where we were ...

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NRF 2019 Round-Up: Interviews on ESLs, HTML5, Interactive Lightboxes And Avatars

NRF 2019 Round-Up: Interviews on ESLs, HTML5, Interactive Lightboxes And Avatars

January 23, 2019

This is a special edition of the podcast which I am pretty much whacking together myself, in the wake of running around the NRF show last week in New York.

I had my handy little Tascam recorder with me, so I grabbed some quick interviews with several companies I bumped into, with the idea of stitching them together in a round-up. These are not the biggest companies. Not necessarily the hottest stuff on the show floor. But they caught my eye, or in the case of the first interview, reflect my thinking that I wanted to know more.

Normally I get interviews properly smoothed out by my sound engineer guy, but with four interviews and intro and so on, it was a big ask on short notice. So here I am, fiddling around with Audacity audio software. So this will be a bit rougher than normal, but the content is solid.

One of the things I noticed on the NRF show floor was how there were way more electronic shelf labels than I have seen in the past, which is why I stopped to chat with Rob Crane, the head of global sales for the ESL company Altierre.

I bumped into Tomer Mann, from 22 Miles, outside the Intel booth. He was doing stand-up demos of his company's long-running wayfinding platform. That's well established, but I was interested in what the company was doing in retail, using HTML.

Inside that Intel booth, I chatted with a Spanish company, called Kendu, that comes out of retail graphics and has introduced a hybrid print and signage solution that uses LED animations behind a lightbox frame of print graphics, and also uses gesture for interactivity.

Finally, I was wandering around the Innovation Lab - which is a lot of new companies, but also companies who can't afford a full booth. I noticed people hanging around a floor display, and reacting to the screen. A company that's partially Toronto, partially Berlin, has an avatar chatbot thing that uses AI to drive interactivity. TwentyBN's avatar seems a little gimmicky, but done well it would be useful in spaces where there's a set of predictable questions.

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2018 DSF Coffee and Controversy, in NYC

2018 DSF Coffee and Controversy, in NYC

November 7, 2018

I was in New York last week for the Digital Signage Federation's annual Coffee and Controversy breakfast event - a panel discussion that each year brings together some of the most influential leaders in the digital signage industry.

I'm on the DSF board and my fellow board members drafted me to run the panel - with Chris Riegel of STRATACACHE, Jeff Hastings of Brightsign and Beth Warren of Creative Realities.

There's only so much controversy you can whip up around digital signage, but I tried ... and if anyone in this industry was going to stir up some shit, it was Chris. He didn't disappoint, nor did Jeff or Beth.

The women who ran the AV for the event very kindly generated an audio recording for me. This is about twice the length of a normal 16:9 podcast, but if you didn't have the chance, time or budget to get to New York last week, you can have a listen to what was said.

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Andrea Varrone, Digital Signage Expo

Andrea Varrone, Digital Signage Expo

February 14, 2018

Trade show managers like to attend other trade shows to see what's going and how things are done, as well chat up exhibitors who might also want to hang a shingle at that trade show manager's own event.

So it was no surprise last week to find Andre Varrone - who runs Digital Signage Expo - walking the maze that is Integrated Systems Europe.

Her own show is coming up in just a few weeks, so we agreed to sit down and talk about why she was at ISE, but more to the point, what digital signage people will see at the end of March at DSE.

We found a place up above the crowd, which worked pretty well until near the end, when someone starts singing. Stupid me thought interviewing above the audio area, around happy hours, was clever.

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Mike Blackman, Integrated Systems Europe

Mike Blackman, Integrated Systems Europe

January 10, 2018

Integrated Systems Europe is now just a matter of weeks away, with the doors to the massive pro AV trade show in Amsterdam set to open on February 6th.

The show has broken attendance records in recent years, and it looks very much like the 2018 number will exceed last year's count of 73,000-plus.

ISE covers off a lot of different technologies, but of the 1,200 or so exhibitors this year, more than a third of them list digital signage as one of their product or service categories. That vendor count is twice the number of vendors who set up at DSE.

I managed to get ISE's managing director Mike Blackman to slow down for a half-hour to talk about why ISE keeps growing, who attends, and what's new and different for 2018.

We spoke by Skype, and unfortunately, the connection is a little chunky in spots. But it's still worth a listen if you are going or want to know more about the show.

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ISE 2017 Bonus Episode

ISE 2017 Bonus Episode

February 13, 2017

This is a bonus edition. I did a pile of sit-down interviews last week in Amsterdam with different execs for full-length podcasts, and you will hear those over the next several weeks. I also did some stand-ups that are already live, with four already up. These are the other four.

I normally get these things properly sound-engineered but in the interests of speed to market, I did these ones myself - so apologies if the sound and levels are a little dodgy. And there's no music.

The interviews are with RED-V from Italy, Interactivescape from Germany, AirportLabs from Romania and NodeArk from Sweden.

There will still be a regular episode up on Wednesday, with Mike Tippets of Hughes.

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Special Episode: Chats From ISE 2017’s Exhibit Halls

Special Episode: Chats From ISE 2017’s Exhibit Halls

February 7, 2017

This is a special edition of 16:9 Podcasts - interviews recorded in and around the RAI Amsterdam at Integrated Systems Europe this week in Amsterdam.

I am doing a bunch of sit-down podcast recordings this week in and around the giant pro AV show, to be streamed in the coming weeks, but I also wanted to grab some quick interviews about things I see in my travels around the many exhibit halls here.

On this episode, you will hear from a series of companies, large and small, including Sony, Sharp, NodeArk and Condeco. These interviews were recorded today and I am posting this as I wait for the press room happy hour to start.

Oh, it has! Yay. 

I'm heading back home this weekend, and next week's podcast will be the normal format.

Also, look for a new 16:9 Projects Podcast, with Michael Tutton, coming this Friday.

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Special Episode - NRF 2017

Special Episode - NRF 2017

January 17, 2017

This is a special edition of the 16:9 Podcast - special because the format’s a little different and because I’m turning this around too quickly to get it polished up by the guy who sound engineers these things.

So no music. Maybe a bit more background noise. The levels are anything but level. But it'll do, in terms of timeliness versus studio quality.

I was just in New York the last couple of days, attending the National Retail Federation’s big trade show. I wanted to pass on some impressions from the show, but also run a couple of shorter interviews I managed to grab on the floor.

I’ll start with an interview I did with Ken Goldberg, the CEO of Real Digital Media. The well known industry executive was wearing a Stratacache shirt and had a Scala exhibitor badge hanging around his neck, so it was a little bit weird to see.

We talked about the news, just last week, that his company was acquired by Stratacache, on the heels of another software rival, Scala, also being acquired.

After that, you’ll hear an interview with Sam Vise of Unefi, a Toronto company that was at NRF showing an interesting product and service that’s built off off 20 years of providing print visuals for the retail industry, and now also does digital signage, off the same platform.

Finally, I’ll pass on some thoughts about NRF.

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Mike Blackman, Integrated Systems Europe

Mike Blackman, Integrated Systems Europe

January 11, 2017

Integrated Systems Europe is coming up at the start of next month in Amsterdam, and Mike Blackman is the guy who has built ISE up to be the largest pro AV show on the planet. It’s also the biggest digital signage show in terms of footprint and exhibitors, though signage is just one element of the event.

Any show that’s just weeks out is in crazy-busy mode, but Mike took some time recently to talk about the show’s roots, how it’s grown and how it works.

We talk about what to expect this year, how to plan out a visit, and how to navigate and survive a show that will likely pull more than 65,000 people and span across 14 buildings.

The good news, if you are now thinking about going, is that there are still hotel rooms available and there’s a lot of different ways to get to Amsterdam.

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Andrea Varrone, Digital Signage Expo

Andrea Varrone, Digital Signage Expo

December 14, 2016

Digital Signage Expo is coming up in late March in Las Vegas. It will be the 14th version of the big trade show and conference.

I sat down with DSE Show Director Andrea Varrone when she was up in Toronto last week, to run through what people should expect to see in 2017 at and around the show..

We talked about a lot of things - like what’s new and different about the upcoming show, and how the event is doing. Varrone talks about the mighty challenge of trying to grow the attendee base when more than half of it is brand new with each passing year. She has to, as she says, keep refilling the attendee bucket.

We get into some of the exhibitor rules that have made some companies cranky, and also touch on the future of a couple of spin-off shows aimed at education and corporate communications, which didn’t exactly draw mobs last month in Chicago.

If you’re a regular at DSE, or thinking about it for 2017, you’ll want to have a listen.

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Florian Rotberg, Invidis

Florian Rotberg, Invidis

August 3, 2016

This week I’m speaking with Florian Rotberg, the managing director at the Munich-based digital signage consulting and events firm Invidis. Florian talks about the background of his company, and his impressions of the global digital signage market.

Rotberg goes into detail about the differences between the North American and European/EMEA market, and the challenges American and Canadian companies run into trying to expand across the Atlantic.

We had our chat in a noisier than expected press room in June at InfoComm, just ahead of the Digital Signage Summit he put on there.

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