DSE 2020 Cancelled; Show Managers Enter Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Process

September 21, 2020 by Dave Haynes

Exponation, the company that started and then ran Digital Signage Expo since the mid-2000s, has entered bankruptcy proceedings.

The company sent out word via longtime PR/marketing head Geri Wolff this morning that it has filed for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, which is described as a liquidation of all assets and permanent closure of the company. The process is now in the hands of trustees. 

This is what was sent this morning by the show to vendors:

As a result of the impact COVID-19 has had on the live events industry, Exponation LLC (producer of Digital Signage Expo, LED Specifier Summit, LightShow West, DigitalSignageConnection.com and West Coast Lighting Insider) has filed for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, which is a liquidation of all assets and permanent closure of the company.
If you are a creditor of Exponation LLC, you will be notified by the bankruptcy court via U.S. Mail shortly, with instructions about filing a claim against Exponation’s limited remaining assets.

So if you were still, somehow, thinking that DSE was going to happen in November, that’s now off the table. I don’t know what this means for those exhibitors who had deposits with the show, hoping it would still go ahead despite the pandemic.

I suspect there will be a bit of a shit storm over that, though you would have had to be naive as hell not to see some version of this coming.

This is unfortunate, as Exponation is a family-owned and run company that got absolutely clobbered by the pandemic. Even IF the outbreak was handled better in the US, it would not have happened this year, though. There cannot be a lot of countries, anywhere, allowing large events (though China, ironically, is holding tech trade shows).

A bunch of Exponation staffers are now on the street, looking for new gigs. If you need people who know the industry, particularly in the Atlanta area, they’re likely eager to connect. 

The show is now dead, unless revived via somebody picking up the brand and other assets through liquidation procedures. But the show has been declining for many years, despite the spin and hard work of Chris Gibbs and his team. Attendance had capped out and was not moving significantly up, prompting the spin line that the show was all about quality of attendees, not quantity.

I was watching exhibitor lists before COVID was an issue and the 2020 show in late March was tracking well below the number for 2019, and was padded by booths that were actually non-exhibitor areas – like relaxation zones or stands for some trade publishers who inexplicably wanted to have stands.

Personally, I’ve been expecting DSE to shut down for the last five years, and you could see vendors migrating either to vertical specific trade shows (like NRF) or to conferences that offered curated matchmaking between end-users and vendors. You could also see how some of the largest vendors were doing cost-benefit analyses – like LG – and deciding to either not show up with a stand at all, or dramatically downsize the presence.

At the end of the 2019 show, I walked out of the LVCC with a couple of people to the ride-share zone and told them I was fairly sure that was the last DSE. Turns out I was right, though I thought it was going to be a demise led by business modeling, not a contagion.

I have also maintained, forever, that while I wasn’t convinced about the format working anymore, the digital signage industry NEEDS some sort of annual gathering in North America. I’m not convinced it needs to be a full-tilt trade show, but there is a convention element to all this. The week was when the regional chapters, so to speak, of the industry gathered.

DSE was a few days each year when people from across the industry got together to share ideas and forge new ties. I don’t think the replacement is New York Digital Signage Week, a string of open houses and cocktail parties, bridging some conferences, held in New York each fall.

So what happens now is unclear. ISE and InfoComm are trade shows that include much of the vendor ecosystem, with ISE large enough to dedicate a full hall to digital signage. The digital signage presence in InfoComm has always been, and may always be, scattered and lacking cohesion because the largest exhibitors – the display manufacturers and the display mounts and enclosures people –  have booth positions around the hall that they’ve locked down for years, and serve many interests at these shows that have little or nothing to do with “signage”. I don’t think InfoComm can herd the big guys into a focused zone when they already have front row or main walkway positions.

ISE’s digital signage hall hives a lot of ecosystem companies together, but the display and mounts majors are scattered all over. Maybe that will change when (and frankly if) ISE happens in Barcelona in June. I’ve not seen the layout for the Fira, but if there was ever a time to create come cohesion, year one in a new venue would be it.

Thanks to Chris Gibbs, Angelo Varrone and the other Exponation people, present and alumni,  who have been putting on this show for all those years. It is clear they tried – SO HARD – to keep the event alive, shifting it twice this year. They’ve worked hard every year.

As noted, I had concerns about its relevance as a generalist show in a time when verticalization was happening. But the show, no matter its size, was ALWAYS professionally run and looked good.

It was around the industry in its infancy and helped the industry mature and evolve. Its demise creates a void. There will be people smiling and saying “I told you so.” There will be people raising a stink about lost deposits and other costs that won’t be clawed back.

It is important to remember the industry needs a focal point and gathering, and now we don’t have one. Hopefully, someone or some entity steps in. I’m a board member of the Digital Signage Federation, which was initiated by DSE years ago, and has always had close ties. In theory – repeat theory – the DSF maybe could/should find a way to fill the void.

But it is way easier to suggest than to execute. Board and committee members all have day jobs.

The DSF is crafting a response on the situation, and I will run that when it is ready.

  1. Brad Gleeson says:

    Sorry to hear about this. I helped launch DSE from a pavilion organized by my company Activelight into a stand-alone show with Chris and Angelo. I was always proud of how they worked to grow the show and the DS business. It was a great place to meet my clients and colleagues in the industry each year. But I agree with you about the changes in the business and declining relevance and support. Best of luck Chris, Angelo, Andrea and all.

  2. Stuart Armstrong says:

    Dave, thank you for your fair, yet personalized perspective of DSE and the team that has been behind it. Throughout the last 16 years (starting in 2004 I believe), Chris and the Exponation team has put their minds and hearts into each event. They have played a significant role in the growth and maturing of the digital signage industry and all of us in the industry have benefited from their efforts. Although I am sure this is a disappointment and hardship, they should be proud of their significant contributions and successes. Thank you!

  3. Ken Goldberg says:

    Your analysis that it was more than the pandemic that ultimately did them in is accurate, but there are many people in this industry who owe some part of their success to DSE’s platforms and actions. I am one… so thank you to Angelo, Chris and the team at Exponation.

    Among the many contributions of Exponation were:
    – Creating a platform for education for end users (and vendors) in dire need of it
    – Dedication to creating and supporting networking opportunities, even those off the Exponation grid (right, Dave?)
    – Support for international interest and involvement in digital signage
    – Support for industry startups
    – Creation and support of the DSF as the advocate for the insutry, and the subsequent and much-needed quashing of the DSA

    Good luck in the future to all involved, and thank you again.

  4. Same story line for kioskcom she and kiosk industry. Now it’s nrf and nra

  5. Jeremy Gavin says:

    I read this news with sadness for Angelo, Chris Gibbs and their entire team past and present. I came to DSE back in 2007 or 2008 with this idea that maybe people would pay for quality content and it was vital to me launching Screenfeed.

    It was marked on our company calendar every year as we’d take the entire company. We did that because there are very few places where your team can geek out on digital signage, hear perspectives and get education. I will miss the regular check-ins with industry friends on setup day and the ‘opening bell’.

    Ken is spot on on the specific contributions of Exponation and we will all continue to reap the benefits for years to come. I expect the digital signage footprint at Infocomm will grow in years to come, but I do hope for an annual ‘gathering event’ that allows companies to showcase in real life and with firm hand shakes again… it will be interesting to see what can be done. Is there a role for DSF here?

  6. Guy Tonti says:

    Agree with Jeremy, it was the best opportunity for the company to all get together away from the office and take stock of the industry. Thanks to those who worked so hard at it.
    With that, the question we all really want the answer to is what happens to the 16-9 mixer? New Year’s Eve in Halifax!

  7. Dave, you may not be convinced that “the replacement is a week of open houses and cocktail parties, bridging some conferences, in New York each fall”, by which I assume you mean New York Digital Week – it seems for some reason that you cannot bring yourself to type those words.

    It may or may not be but that is the industry’s decision.

    What your readers should note is that in 2018 #NYDSW attracted more attendees than DSE did that year (32 Events, 4,500 attendees, 108 speakers) and in 2019 it did the same, with almost 5,500 attendees.

    A London or New York Fashion Week model of business for an industry is surely far better than a “family owned business” that in the end ripped off the industry exhibitors it said that it served. Many small businesses have contacted us already to say that they have lost out to the tune of USD 7,000 – 15,000 from the demise of Exponation.

  8. Jim Nista says:

    So sad to see this.

    Andrea, Chris, Angelo and the full team did so much for everyone in the industry and I owe so much of the opportunities I found over the years to Exponation. The Digital Signage Expo provided a broader spectrum and alternative to the Advertising/DOOH focus of other shows and conferences surrounding digital signage which will be missed.

    It’s been an honor to serve on the advisory board and receive awards and recognition for creative / content work over the years. Thanks to all for such a great run.

  9. This is unfortunate news indeed.
    Over the past 10 years, there’s been a few key voices and platforms that have been critical in growing the business of display-based communications.
    For me, it comes downs to Dave, Adrian and of course the DSE team.
    Each with their own approach/style/perspective, they’ve been key in legitimizing our innovations to clients globally.
    I want to sincerely thank Andrea, Chris, Angelo and Richard for their support and commitment to the industry.
    Arsenal Media would not have grown into the creative agency it became without you guys.
    Merci encore.

  10. Bart DeCanne says:

    Despite the positive and “they are a victim” tone of this article, it also has to be said that DSE management did not do any effort to organize a virtual event, and never offered refunds but happily kept the money paid by exhibitors (some of which, like us, paid a year in advance) and even conference attendees (whose tickets from March were not refunded but ‘rolled forward’ for the event in November).
    This is unlike other trade shows (NRF, InfoComm) that offered refunds to their exhibitors.
    Not business ethical behavior.

  11. Ian says:

    As a (former) Advisory Board member for DSE, let me first say that this group of folks worked tirelessly. While not all were satisfied with the results, a great deal of discussion had gone into a more focused DOOH stream this year, and I was looking forward to seeing that.

    I do agree with Dave, NY Week is great, but I feel it lacks a dominant, anchoring event where all people are. Frankly, DSE did as well sometime, with people scattered at a dozen hotels along the strip… one anchor event, in one place, with a strong set of keynotes and networking events would help provide some Glue to what is, otherwise, a good week in NYC.

    So onto 2020. And thank you to all who ever attended or worked DSE… I will miss the “Class Reunion” once a year. (And that Piano bar at Paris!!)

  12. Jon Dodge says:

    Freshwater has enjoyed sitting on the Advisory Board for the last decade. This was the one show where I knew I would be able to meet up with all of our partner companies and friends. Sad to see this organization come to an end.

    Freshwater is looking to hire a Business Development Manager/Director, so if there is someone looking, I would love to have a conversation with them.

  13. Andrew Schuch says:

    After 2019 I had the same thought as you. I brought some colleagues from one of my partner agencies and they were disappointed too.

  14. Paul J. Fleuranges says:

    Where to begin.

    I attended my first DSE back in 2012 and was overwhelmed by it all, so much to see so many perspectives to try to glean. Through the efforts of Angelo, Chris, Andrea, Geri and so many others who made DSE happen I was afforded the opportunity to learn about the industry, put that learning into action, bring my colleagues along to help them learn, become a voice for the industry and sit on the board of DSF. Along the way I have met some great people, made sincere friendships and industry connections. I’ve become a Digital Signage Evangelist.

    Is another Big Show in the future when we get past this pandemic? We don’t know exactly what the future holds but the DSF is actively exploring options and thinking about how best to continue to serve the industry and most importantly our members. Our online education program is second to none and we are doubling down on that, and our efforts to generate and provide a platform for thought leadership from across the ecosystem. We welcome the industry’s thoughts and contributions to both course and content creation: we are a “by members for members” organization.

    We will have more to say soon.

    Until then, thank you DSE.

  15. I attended the very first show in San Francisco with as many vendors as there were attendees. Andrea, Chris & Angelo worked hard to build this show into an industry event not to miss. Along with the DSF, we’ve experienced many milestones of specifications, education and growth of our industry. I do agree with many that the digital signage industry has evolved and the current state of the show wasn’t working for many. In our daily busy schedules, I will miss the DSE to connect with many industry friends and colleagues. I hope we continue to evolve and grow.

  16. I will echo Paul J. Fleuranges – but I’ll take it back a bit. Andrea, Chris, Angelo, Geri, and the previous staff from Brianna, Kyler, and the rest all did so much for everyone in this industry.

    I comically remember having a slap delivered by Andrea from Angelo for a stunt with the Data Call girls.. Thought I was clear of my intentions, but… good times…good times. Angelo had a standard that was made clear that evening.

    The opportunities and relationships built from DSE and their direct involvement with DSF have been key building blocks to this industry.

    We used to be named something other than Digital Signage – remember? – back to the days of of the push and shove of a couple – when kilts were worn by some at one of the early shows..

    These friends from the former Exponation helped us define our industry – I wish them the best.

    How many of us have had to describe the definition multiple times of what we do, or looked for a code somewhere that never existed to define our sector. DSE defined and unified us.

    I write this here and now as a tribute to all – from Angelo on down. We appreciate you, and will miss you.

    Typically, I don’t post, yet I chose to post this here on this site, as I have noticed so much negative posting on another industry site that can’t seem to provide a proper SSL. Would have posted a reply there as the hate is real, but I’m down with SSL. Those reading this here probably get it.

    Too much slinging of mess in these times. Lets move forward.

    With all of the sh*t that’s happened this year, I have to ask every business person out there

    – Could you, or would you have shut down DSE any differently? Dam, what would one have done differently with the challenges of 2020 in the expo biz? Dam in 2019, 2020 was looking great for many. And then…

    At the end of the day, things still remain awkward. Yes, our company got burned as well as others that took a much larger hit. But really, study the time line. Getting backed into a wall with rumors of attendance decline, large exhibitors scaling etc… At what point does a company give in.

    BK sticks for a while and is not a favorable experience.

    At the end of the day, however it looks on paper, it all happens the same – It’s just zeros combined with the same formula of survival/recovery.

    So I ask that we all appreciate the gains and experiences that we have matured with. Let us move briskly – together – looking to keep our industry moving forward with solidarity.

    And for the haters out there, I’m not looking to change your opinion, I’m just sharing mine.

    Feed The Beast

Leave a comment