Something wrong with the business? Things slowing down? Nope. As we seen from recent shows, the audio industry and the entertainment technology markets, in general, are doing pretty well and showing lots of resilience considering the global economic volatility. It's true some larger European markets are stalling and there are many countries going through a slow recovery, but as we have seen from recent trade shows, there's plenty of global activity and these type of events are the ideal platforms for expansion, which is the reason why visitor and exhibitor numbers have grown. In Frankfurt - one of the largest and traditional trade shows in the audio industry - it was a mixed bag.
As we wrote prior to the show, this year's edition was all about change. The Frankfurt concurrent events - Musikmesse and Prolight+Sound - have needed restructuring for quite some time, for reasons which are more or less obvious to regular visitors - and not caused by the market evolution but by the lack of response from the promoters to a changing environment. Unfortunately, the changes (?) implemented didn't achieve any of the desired goals as walking the long empty walkways of the Frankfurt Messe clearly demonstrated.
And yet, Prolight+Sound 2016 was indeed another successful show, at least for those companies exhibiting in Hall 3.1 - the most modern, ample, and comfortable pavilion in the 11-building Frankfurt Messe complex. The pro audio industry is expanding, and that hall was naturally upbeat with great exhibits, new product introductions, and a nice flow of visitors during two of the four days. Unfortunately, Hall 3.1 was just one part of Prolight+Sound. Hall 3.0, just below, should have accommodated the remaining audio exhibitors but instead that's where the large lightning and stage companies were located. Those lighting companies require high-ceilings and a dark environment for their displays. The beautiful large hall with lots of natural light required blinders on all glass windows to create the dark conditions. Big mistake. There was no flow of visitors between those two halls, and worse, between the remaining distant halls.
Looking at the building from the amazing outside plaza, it was as if that hall was closed and nothing was going on - it was even difficult to find the actual entrances to the place. Across the plaza there was another hall dedicated to lighting and effects (Hall 5.0) and between those there was Hall 4.1, again for audio exhibits - where most microphone and smaller electronics companies were located. It was a complete disaster in both cases with lots of empty spaces between booths and a depressing environment in general. While companies in Hall 3 were upbeat and reported good business, most companies we talked to in Hall 5 and 4.1 were regretting the location and complaining about low visitor traffic.
The Frankfurt Messe complex is one of the largest in the world and also one of the best equipped, so it is hard to understand the choice of locations and separation between the halls, with long empty walkways in between, when many of the buildings with several floors could accommodate the whole show. Why such a separation between halls if there was no traffic and there was so much empty space?
But the worst was Musikmesse. The whole concept of "changing" one of the most traditional international trade shows in Europe was already risky, but the result was a combination of all the worst possible choices. First, the promoters fell into the traditional trap of forgetting the essential: this is a trade show and people go there for business. Musikmesse is not another music festival or cultural event. When the new concept was promoted - four days open to the public and the introduction of outside concert areas and food courts (it rained during the first two days); the creation of exhibits themed after music-genres; and the promotion of more live music events during the weekend, including concerts at more than 30 city locations, concurrently with Musikmesse - it triggered an immediate reaction from many traditional exhibitors. Companies simply postponed the decision to participate this year because they didn't understand where their business goals would fit with the new concept.
Then, there was the complete separation between Musikmesse and Prolight+Sound, only overlapping during two days in the middle of the week but effectively separated by the distance between the halls and the poor traffic between areas. The decision from Fender, Gibson, and Behringer (the whole Music Group) not to attend Musikmesse 2016, was probably motivated for their own reasons, but the uncertainty over the new concept simply motivated a domino effect, leading to most of the major guitar and drum companies deciding not to attend as well. The entire thing was a recipe for disaster.
In Hall 9.1 of the Musikmesse, we could find some audio companies - a strange mix of studio recording brands, music software (very few), and synthesizer companies - that opted not to be at Prolight+Sound and assumed the higher traffic of musicians and end-users would be better for their business. They ended up surrounded by noisy DJ companies and the Music4Kidz playground. Somehow, someone actually thought that mixing studio equipment with DJ gear and small children would be a good idea!
Even worst was the dispersion of the few companies across the remaining distant halls, causing a depressive environment everywhere - something never seen at Musikmesse. There was even an anecdotic B2B area (Hall 11.1) where some companies were hiding and making sure they would not see any visitors. We have seen private booths at other trade shows and many times had meetings in hotel suites in the vicinity (something that is traditional in Frankfurt with the adjacent Maritim hotel and congress center), but we have never seen such a waste of space. Worse, Hall 11 is another modern building in the Frankfurt complex (almost large enough to hold the entire thing) and the Messe decided to promote the visitors' entrance from the new Portalhaus (where the Yamaha exhibits were located), apart from all the remaining entrances. This worsened the previously mentioned lack of traffic flow during the two overlapping days with Prolight+Sound and made the dispersion between halls even more painful. In fact, even though Musikmesse was open to the public and visitors could have access to any of the Prolight+Sound halls, there was no additional traffic noticed. In fact, there were almost no visitors on Friday afternoon, during the last hours of Prolight+Sound - hard to explain. This year's concept was indeed a mess!
When did Frankfurt Messe, promoters of 132 trade fairs across more than 40 locations around the globe, lose track of what a trade show should be? Yes, other shows such as the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) show have live concerts outside, and food trucks, and sometimes too much party-crowds and autograph signings - but that's the music business. It might sound like fun, but they exist because, as in every other industry, you need a trading platform for professionals. And yes - as the NAMM Show proves - music, pro audio, show lighting, and staging hardware can coexist in the same environment.
I am afraid Musikmesse will not survive with this concept. The two shows need to be coordinated and the focus needs to be on the business side. Prolight+Sound and Musikmesse need each other, much like a Frankfurter Würstchen goes with Bier!