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:
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.
Dave Haynes is the founder and editor of Sixteen:Nine, an online publication that has followed the digital signage industry for some 14 years. Dave does strategic advisory consulting work for many end-users and vendors, and also writes for many of them. He’s based near Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Canada’s east coast.