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April 27, 2006

Are we getting any smarter?

When trawling through my PC archives the other day, I came across an old 1999 presentation entitled "Smart Events".

The thrust of this presentation was that it was about time that UK industry woke up to the new technology that brought new products, new ideas and the people that wanted to promote them, ever closer together with their target markets. The bad news for the events business was that this was being done almost entirely in the comfort of the offices of both sides of the sales proposition.

The bottom line of this torment by PowerPoint was that the days when a UK event could get away with being an annual circus that happened to occur annually as if by some divine right of inheritance, and performed in a draughty shed at huge expense, was coming to an inevitable end.

Never mind that the felony was generally further compounded by a fearsome platoons of peaked caps, whose sole object in life was to ensure that visitors walked no less than 2 miles from the (unguarded) car park to the show; and 3 miles, if it was snowing or raining.

Looking back from 2006, it's fair to say that 1999/2000 did indeed mark a watershed for many events, especially in the IT industry, when a period of sustained growth started to grind to a halt, and in some cases became a headlong rush back to oblivion.

Those lucky few industry managers that received that presentation in 1999 generally didn't have a clue what the internet meant to them, or how it was any sort of a threat to their cosy and familiar world of "draughty shed" events. So the idea that they could be shown how to use this technology to not only avert the impending problems, but turn their businesses around so that technology and the internet might become the events industry's best friend, was completely lost in the indifference.

Permit me to share some pearls of the PowerPoint slide content with you:

The Enhanced Visitor Experience (EVE) starts with improving the means of basic access.

No more queuing for entry, and capture all the right data!

  • implement a smart registration scheme
  • pre-register all events
  • via the web
  • via interactive voice systems
  • via fax
  • any other opportunities to pay..?

With a properly conceived online system, tickets may even be purchased (and therefore events promoted) at

  • any internet access point
  • office or home
  • public kiosks

And in the fullness of time...

  • with travel tickets at rail stations

The ticketing screens can also integrate with all other show essentials - accommodation, travel, request itinerary

  • Register a friend, earn a bonus
  • The ticketing process can involve the despatch of smartcards - but for free entry events, the costs of missed shots will be severe.
  • Better to supply a traditional magstripe ticket (PIN optional) that is swapped in a system at the venue for a smartcard.
  • Basic ID smartcards cost from 35p, full function cards with cash ability run to ?4-6
  • Smartcards are very sponsorable
  • Mondex, BT, Phonecards, Underground, others

It goes on to describe things such as smart cards and smart RFID tags and their application, together with pages on organiser and attendee benefits - so it could not have been accused of being a lecture on technology for its own sake.

In the intervening 7 years, most of the above have come about, but in a pretty random manner as the result of disparate companies and their initiatives required much stamina to grind down barriers of indifference. The opportunity for a couple of early adopters to set useful - possibly global - standards has largely been lost. Indeed the initiative on smart card identity solutions is now with the politicians, so God Help Us All.

So what of the next 7 years?

Maybe I'll share some more of that prescient 1999 PowerPoint with you from time to time, although my main task with EVENTS:review is to help steer readers into the next 7 years of progress and development with their eyes open to the many opportunities - but that might become threats for those who ignore and wilfully misunderstand them.

One example is connectivity, and venues installing WiFi internet connectivity imagine that this is taking their "draughty shed" one step closer to tomorrow? Yes and no.

The industry must resist the temptation to try and charge premium rates (or at all) for services like WiFi and accept that these are now as much part of the essential services as the air in the building, since anyone attending an event as an exhibitor or visitor is entitled to be able to find connectivity simply available without the sort of performance that presently exists.

If visitors and exhibitors feel that this essential umbilical with their office email remains uncut, that's one more excuse not to attend out of the way.

Less obvious but just as important is the imminent video and TV revolution, and EVENTS:review has a very exciting opportunity to trail blaze in an area that will change business communications for ever.

Web portals enhanced with video (aka IPTV) have been stumbling for quite a while to get into their stride. Early efforts struggled hard against the lack of bandwidth and failure to understand the medium, not least because many large companies and government organisations have not had PCS with sound cards fitted.

But this year sees the launch of BT's onslaught into the TV market with a dual function set top box that delivers Freeview and internet video to the TV screen - without the need for the viewer to be know or care about the difference between his or her ASX from their MP4 or WMV.

This is a much more significant moment for the genre of IPTV than most realise, for it is the moment that broadcast TV lost its monopoly of the living room screen forever, as narrowcasters at last will have the same access as mainstream broadcasters - right alongside BBC1-4, Channel 4, Channel 5, ITV1-4, Spring Fair TV, CeBIT TV ....and million other specialist internet TV sources.

Everyone involved in the events industry needs to grasp the opportunity to create, deliver and archive the unique content that almost unavoidably arises when interesting people, products and ideas come together in one location.

Those draughty barns are now large distributed TV studios that are capable of creating the sort of content and controversy that as attracts an audience of millions of easily qualified eyeballs. And then it's up to all concerned to grab their attention, and show them what they are missing by not attending in the flesh.

Will people want to come in person if they think they can see it all on web TV? Major sporting events are televised and analysed to death, but if the experience and performance is attractive enough, there are never enough tickets for all that want to attend in person.

F2F events will not thrive by attempting to hold back the tide of technology and force people to attend in person without providing better incentive than the vague threat/promise of missing something exciting if you don't show up in person. But they might just find that the promotional opportunities afforded by the correct use of video and the web can spin those turnstiles off their bearings once again.

What do you think of this $type?





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