Will There Be A DSE 2024? Who Knows …
December 6, 2023 by Dave Haynes
I want to state upfront that I think the Questex team is terrific and do a nice job before, during and after the Digital Signage Experience event it puts on, but there are reasons to think they are struggling mightily to reboot what was long known as Digital Signage Expo.
This was the second year the NY-based events company has put on the show, having bought the assets in 2021 from the family-owned-and-run Atlanta company that started and ran DSE since the mid-2000s. Exponation entered into bankruptcy proceedings when COVID took over our lives, but the show was already, by 2020, in serious decline.
The 2022 DSE exhibition hall was small, but it would the have looked like CES by comparison to this year – when there were perhaps 60 vendors – some of them just meeting spaces and other ones just lounges and areas allocated to non-profit and non-paying organizations like the Digital Signage Federation.
Questex said the 2022 show had “nearly 100” exhibitors, so that’s a significant year-to-year drop. But what is more significant is the vendor count from the pre-COVID era. In 2017, the show had 255 exhibitors and it was suggesting there were as many for 2019, though it was probably more like 200.
This is what Questex started out with when it first started marketing the rebooted show …
This was the revised one from early 2022, once COVID pushed the event to November from March.
Whatever the real count, the expo hall was 20%-25% the size it was before COVID. If people were heading to Las Vegas to see display technology, they would not have come across a while bunch in the DSE exhibit hall. The show is now physically attached to the LDI live events technology show that Questex also owns and runs, so there were maybe 10 LED display vendors to check out by hanging a left out of the DSE section and wandering into a mood-lit world of fog machines, spotlights, big audio and all the other tech that drives the live events sector.
There is some crossover, for sure, but it’s a bit like the audio hall at ISE or the lighting and AV rigging area at InfoComm. They are there, but the technology has largely tenuous ties to digital signage work.
I had been privately referring, for several years, to the old DSE as a “dead show walking” – a show heading down the corridor to the viability electric chair. The crowd count at the old DSE had been flat-lined for years at around 4,000 and the exhibitor counts were slipping year to year. When I walked out of the 2019 show, and was waiting for a ride share car, I said to a couple of industry friends that I thought that would be the last DSE. It was done.
I was kinda sorta right and wrong. It was the last Digital Signage Expo, but the backers were in the throes of doing another one in 2020, when travel stopped and we all learned what an epidemiologist did.
When Questex announced it was reviving the show with a tweaked brand, I was hoping – like many – that a fresh start and a much bigger backer would provide new spark for the event. Questex admirably did a lot of listening, and asked people like me what I thought of the old show and how a rebooted show might work.
But the new version in 2022 looked a whole bunch like the 2019 version, just smaller.
I don’t know what the attendee registration count was for DSE this week. The Sixteen:Nine Mixer still sold out, though it took weeks, not days (or even hours) to do so. The foot traffic certainly suggests there is a willingness to send people to meet and mingle, but not spend five or six figures on a stand and a bunch of flights and hotel room nights for the people staffing a stand.
I am told there were healthy numbers of end-users – aka buyers – were registered, so it might have worked well for the few dozen vendors who did make the investment. I heard mostly positive comments about traffic and opportunities on Monday
There would also have been good complementary foot traffic from the LDI crowd – as one badge got you two shows. If LDI wasn’t on concurrently, and not doing well (it sure looks to be), it would be hard to imagine this hit any Questex business goals, other than on pure event execution.
One vendor told me they were unable to book space at the show office for DSE2024, as Questex was only doing that at the moment for LDI. That suggests the folks need to have a big think.
I saw a couple of the DSE people Tuesday afternoon, and they looked something less than bouyant. Granted, they could just have been tired.
What IS obvious is that the industry wants and needs an opportunity to gather the clans, so to speak. The ability to network is huge, as is the efficiency of having some sort of “touches” with business partners – whether resellers, service providers or direct suppliers. Two or three days of meetings in one city is far cheaper and easier on the body than flying all over the damn place to see people.
Both InfoComm in the US and ISE in Europe have substantial digital signage components, and a presence of many to most of the big display and pro AV infrastructure guys who, by necessity, have to physically turn up with product at major trade shows. The shows, ISE much more so than InfoComm, also attract a healthy number of CMS software companies.
But most of the software firms in digital signage have headcounts of less than 50 people and annual revenues of less than $10 million. They don’t have big marketing budgets for trade shows, and what budget is there, is increasingly used for vertically-specific shows – versus catch-all events like a DSE or even InfoComm.
Software is also something that can be effectively demo’d online, unlike OLEDs and LED displays and mounting gear that buyers, specifiers and resellers really need to see and touch, and walk around.
I don’t think the traditional tech trade show with conference model works all that well anymore – with the just-ended DSE being Exhibit A.
What the alternative is, I dunno. But I think it is less about exhibits and much more about educating, and putting people in the same industry together for two or three days to meet, share and learn.
InfoComm in particular has been trying for many years to draw more and more of the digital signage crowd to its event, and I’d certainly say its relevance is growing within this sector. But the challenge with the BIG pro AV shows is that they serve a lot of technology and use-case interests – so you can be on a hotel shuttle bus in Orlando with 40 people, and you’re the only one involved in signage.
It’s not really possible to group all of the digital signage companies together in a large, cohesive zone because the biggest vendors – the Samsungs and Sonys and LGs – all have their high profile spots in an exhibit hall, and they’re not moving because the interests of the people coming for a look cover everything from collaboration and classrooms to broadcast.
Will there be a DSE 2024? Dunno. That’s Questex’s call. At minimum, the current approach might need a serious rethink.
Again, no knock on the people who do the show. I like them a lot. But I’m not convinced they’ll do this again, and I think even the vendors who were there might come back, but with smaller exhibits or even just meeting rooms. But there needs to be something that gets the industry’s people together for two or three days that are JUST about digital signage.