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Apps Set to Play Defining Role in Future of Live Events Market

While technology is clearly redefining the way in which visitors to trade shows and conferences can interact with organisers and exhibitors, many at London's Event Tech Live expo believed far more 'joined-up thinking' is required.

Photo: Screen stars: LED gets cost-effective through PSCo.
Screen stars: LED gets cost-effective through PSCo.
Photo: Screen stars: LED gets cost-effective through PSCo.
Screen stars: LED gets cost-effective through PSCo.

In its debut year, London's Event Tech Live showcased a number of truly amazing solutions and apps, although the feeling in the hall was that this ever-changing sector needs to be significantly more "joined-up".

The consensus among industry experts at the event was that the "tech" – primarily apps for smartphones and other devices – and "live" elements of the events market are not quite as connected as they ought to be. Things, though, are apparently set to improve somewhat dramatically.

According to Reggie Aggarwall of Cvent, a US Cloud-based events company, apps will be embraced more and more. This is largely a recognition of the role they play in providing reliable intelligence on visitors for organisers and exhibitors, while enhancing the communication process, all the way from registration through to post-event engagement.

Overall, the show featured a variety of exhibitors, all keen to present their own technical solutions for the events market. There was also a glut of smartphone apps providers, including start-up companies trying to identify a niche and others with more of an established track record.

Among the latter was Peter Eyre, Managing Director of Lumi Technologies. He believes the strongest growth areas for event-related apps will include sharing and interacting with eventgoers, improving the overall experience and providing live intelligence. Currently, Lumi provides apps solutions for conferences, events, training and market research. Formed in the UK in 2008, today it has offices around the globe, including one in Hong Kong.

Newly launched in October, London-based Glisser is a late entrant to the market. Chief Executive and founder, Mike Piddock, was attending the show to demo the firm's app, a system for sharing live presentation data. Using PowerPoint, Glisser – the app – edits presentations, allowing them to be pushed out to the mobile devices of the audience.

Using the Cloud, the presenter advances slides to attendees. They can then interact with the presentation by making notes, voting, commenting, tweeting and more. It's a very simple idea and has been designed to make live presentations far more dynamic. At £100 per presentation (or £500 for a day's conference), it is, however, at the pricey end of the spectrum. Asked if using the Cloud presented any problems in connectivity, Piddock said: "Once the presentation is live, operating the app only needs a very small signal, so whether there's Wi-Fi or not, it shouldn't be a problem."

The company behind the events app for Event Tech was San Francisco-based DoubleDutch. Luke Glen, the company's Business Development Manager, claimed the company was the first to bring data-driven technology to the events industry. It has also recently raised US$19 million to further develop the interactive elements of its products. Outlining the possibilities, Glen said: "The future is in experiential social networking, engaging attendees to interact before, during, and after an event."

Another company new to the apps market was Oojal Singh Jhutti's appropriately named UK start-up, iWaz.at. He said his company had created an app for every device with "no faffing about" required. The iWaz.at app is designed to facilitate interaction pre-, during and post-event, with the aim of maximising the networking experience.

One of the quirkiest products on show was Event in a Box, from Phygital, a company based in southeast England. Explaining the thinking behind the unit, Product Director and Inventor Chris Savage said: "After more than 20 years in experiential marketing, I realised that people at events were looking for something different, a bit of fun – an experience that could also link to social media."

Event in a Box comes in a box on wheels, self-contained and branded-up. Once it's popped open, it becomes an interactive presentation system, with a large touch-screen interface running Jukebox software. The system can be loaded with all of the required media and driven from a content-managed system. An additional feature is "Selfie", an interactive photo booth linked to the system that takes photos of attendees. It offers interactive graphics for a fun experience and allows you to print photographs or link to social media.

Another company new to the events market is Current-RMS, part of the Insphire group, which has 17 years' experience in the rental management software market and has offices in Texas, the Netherlands and Australia, besides its base in the UK. Current-RMS offers a Cloud-based service specifically for Event Equipment Rental Management. CEO Chris Branson said: "We are offering a 30-day free trial; then it's £35 per user, with no contract."

Making by far the biggest splash of colour at the show was PSCo, with its large Absen LED screen. Earlier in 2014, Stuart Holmes, PSCo's Chief Executive, had signed an exclusive UK agreement with Absen Optoelectronics, a market-leading Chinese manufacturer of LED Systems.

Photo: Glisser: Live data sharing.
Glisser: Live data sharing.
Photo: Glisser: Live data sharing.
Glisser: Live data sharing.
Photo: LiveGroup’s digital delegate management system.
LiveGroup's digital delegate management system.
Photo: LiveGroup’s digital delegate management system.
LiveGroup's digital delegate management system.

Explaining the move, Holmes maintained there was increased interest in large format LED systems, which offered improved performance in advanced calibration at a fraction of the cost. He said: "Systems are now a tenth of the cost, at £4,000 per square metre. They come with a service package, and are available for either rental or sales."

Shenzhen-based Absen LED now employs more 1,200 people. It currently offers LED systems, suitable for a range of sectors from retail to large sports venues, in 117 countries.

Izzie McLaughlin-Hill, part of the Business Development team at LiveGroup, said her company's 40 years of event management experience had helped it to develop digital events products that provide a fully integrated, one-stop-shop for delegate management. As well as a sophisticated event app that enables a variety of metrics to be recorded, its Greengage indoor positioning "Bluetooth Beacon" can track the movement of delegates. This information can then be shared back with delegates, exhibitors, and organisers via social media in order to improve the networking experience – and make sure they are not in the bar. Presumably.

While the technology exists to improve communication and interaction at live events, LiveGroup Managing Director Toby Lewis said he doesn't believe the market is fully connected yet. During his seminar presentation, he asked (via LiveGroup's app): "When did you include technology in the planning of your event?" Tellingly, only 30% responded "at the planning stage", while 39% said "two weeks out"; and 7% confessed to "on the day".

Aiming to "bridge the gap between the online and offline worlds" was Australian company Social Playground. The company brings Instagram to the event floor via a Photo-printer and Live Feed, with the aim of allowing attendees to share the event live in a fun way, extending its reach and creating opportunities for on-going conversations. This is another simple, experiential marketing idea and links neatly into social media channels.

Another growing sector within event technology is video streaming. Mike Gilham, Sales Director of Oxford-based First Sight Media, has his own take on how the market has developed. He said: "Some 95% of the video content that we produce is now streamed in some way. Via webinars or conferences, it's streamed all around the globe."

The company's streaming interface, the iPresenter, is an interactive tool that enables users to add slides and links to video presentations, with playback controls and full screen options to maximise viewer involvement. Gilham said that the international pharmaceutical industry, in particular, was showing strong demand for such tools.

Another exhibitor focussing on streaming – or "live global casting" – was Ash Welsh of the UK's m62 Visual Communications. The company has a background in helping clients put effective presentations together, but it is now aiming to take streamed presentations to another level.

On stage, Welsh conducted a live-streamed presentation, demonstrating the m62 Infra-Red Presentation Screen, linking m62's offices in Liverpool to the seminar audience at Event Tech Live. The system borrows its technology from the Chroma Key/Green Screen matting system, where the presenter appears in front of the presentation screen and becomes interactive with the changing content.

Welsh's colleague, live streaming from Liverpool, graphically demonstrated how a high quality image could be created by two synchronised cameras projecting images at 60 frames per second. The company is able to link up to four camera locations streaming from anywhere in the world simultaneously.

While Event Tech Live provided an array of innovations and insights (some of them conflicting), two clear messages, at least, could be abstracted from the proceedings. First, to be effective, communication needs to be more personal, more sophisticated, online and more available. Secondly, while live streaming and video paints valuable pictures through social media, it needs to be in bite-size chunks if it is to be properly digested.

Photo: Event Tech Live: In search of joined-up solutions.
Event Tech Live: In search of joined-up solutions.
Photo: Event Tech Live: In search of joined-up solutions.
Event Tech Live: In search of joined-up solutions.

The first-ever Event Tech Live Show took place at London's Truman Brewery on 13 November 2014, with more than 900 visitors attending the event.

David Wilkinson, Special Correspondent, London

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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