Since the cancellation of the Shanghai Grand Prix and MWC in Barcelona, more shows are going the same way. All of which is sad and all of which poses other questions.
The cancellation of physical events obviously further opens the door to virtual events and this, in turn, opens the door to some big opportunities.
The new cancellations might be the catalyst needed to increase the importance of virtual events.
But it is not as easy as all that.We all know that we see an interesting looking webinar and we sign up. When it comes to the time of the event and your boss wants to see you, you go and see your boss.
Virtual events take second place to physical events, which is human nature. If you fly across the world to attend a trade show, you attend the trade show, you make as many of the meetings as you can and you take in a keynote or two (unless you are John Tanner) – essentially you maximise the time and effort.
A hybrid version is also emerging. The show goes on, offline and online at the same time. London Fashion Week went ahead and the show has put platforms in place for the highly significant Chinese faction to be able to be part of the show.
This idea is not new.
Specialist antique (and whisky) auctions can go ahead with the actual show room almost empty and Chinese collectors bidding from Shanghai.
All of this sounds like a good idea, except technology needs to up its game to be good enough to provide a solution. If there is an online bidder for a bottle of whisky worth $900,000 (and there was) and the connection drops or the server stutters, then the ramifications can be messy. Whose liability is it? The bidder bid, after all, it was just that the message did not get through. Of course, the small print will exonerate the auction house but the damage to reputation and trust can be final.
All of this shouts ‘VR’ and ‘AR’ and ‘5G’. How much more compelling would presentations be if they were in 3D and, as a standards group, for example you could look at the layers on those complex models that they produce?
‘They’ say that there is nothing like a face to face meeting. Nothing like the hand shake, the celebratory lunch and the round of golf. And the rest of us would agree.
It may take years to change this thinking (the thinking was around in the 90s) but it may have to change fast if COVID-19 is just the beginning of a current string of viruses that have devastating potential.
The next few months could provide the perfect boost to the new technologies that we have seen hyped but not here yet. The trade show market, for one – with annual sales of $325 billion – would seem to be an opportunity waiting to happen to bench test 5G.
We have said before that this year could well be the year when we begin to see 5G applications transform certain arenas (rather than glibly revolutionise our lives), let’s see what it can do with exhibitions.