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IBC: We've Been Apart for Too Long

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If you normally visit IBC, you've a decision to make. Perhaps you've already made it and weighed up that, on balance, mass participation trade shows are best left until 2022. 

Some major exhibitors, like Sony and Ross Video with legions of execs based overseas, have cancelled floor space consistent with prioritising health and safety considerations for staff. Many industry stakeholders from marketers to journalists are leaving a decision on visiting Amsterdam at the beginning of December to the last minute. 

While travel and Covid-19 test restrictions and regulations have eased across Europe making a physical event possible, the uncertainties surrounding the virus and government responses to it remain. The UK is currently experiencing a spike in infections heading into a perfect storm of winter and the expiring effectiveness of double vaccinations. 

The show's organizers have sensibly hedged their bets with extensive planning of a hybrid event that will include video streaming of all conference sessions—and they've made the event free for the first time, for both online and in person. And they're taking delegate safely seriously.

Whilst most people have a lot of goodwill towards IBC, there is an element of schadenfreude—delight in its predicament. The same was true when NAB also had to finally abort its physical event for a virtual version earlier this month. Perhaps that is to do with the perception that certain vendors hold, rightly or wrongly, in having paid over the odds for a presence at these events for years. The tumbleweed of exhibitions and attempts at virtualising the experience over the last 20 months are cause for a reappraisal as to their worth. 

So, the question is, if IBC did not exist then would the industry need something like IBC? 

I believe the answer is yes. An annual in-person event for M&E tech, particularly in Europe, creates a sense of community that simply cannot be achieved in any other way. Zoom-based networking or some future holographic telepresence are facsimiles of genuine interaction. Traditional broadcast engineering operates more like a cottage industry compared to the corporations of telecoms or IT, but that engenders a sense of family in which everyone's business is your business. In a good way. The same goes for OTT, and of course the two are becoming increasingly indistinguishable.

Perhaps because of its smaller cohort of attendees and definitely because it's Artistic Amsterdam rather than Venal Vegas, IBC just feels like the right home for professionals passionate about technology's role in advancing moving image storytelling. 

Its mixed media of conference, show floor, special demonstrations and after-hours social events have become a spark for ideas, for cementing agendas, for shaping how we think and work and who we work with. Take away that connection and you realise how valuable it is.  

Development teams and marketers may prefer not to deliver new product to a "false" deadline every April or September, but the international focus on these events does generate a sense of excitement and a critical mass of activity that seems to take the whole industry forward. This momentum has been noticeably lacking in 2021. 

It's also true that trade shows cannot ignore the changes to the way people want to engage with them. The opportunity to participate online has to be permanent, and the streaming functionality has to get richer. Perhaps too there will be changes to business and organizational models with less emphasis on maximising revenue by filling floor space and more on innovations that build on their strengths—conversation, connection, community. 

There is a desire for these big events to happen because people want to meet face-to-face. As IBC itself puts it: We've been apart for too long, it's time to come together again.  

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