In Search of Event Tech Innovation

a group of diverse professionals in a high-tech environment, brainstorming and discussing around a futuristic display of advanced event technology

Skift Take

Event Tech Live's 10th edition revealed a challenging landscape for innovation in the event technology sector. Major players are focused on offering all-in-one solutions and offering incremental improvements over groundbreaking changes. The calls for fresh, disruptive ideas are growing louder in a market hungry for true innovation.

A UK-focused community of event technology geeks gathered last week for the 10th edition of Event Tech Live. Taking place for the second time in its history at London Excel London, it continues to be one of the few gatherings of event tech enthusiasts and a place where you can take a temperature check of innovation in the sector.

Speaking with fellow attendees, it was clear that event tech innovation was not easy to find.

Rightly or wrongly, everyone was looking for exciting new things, but few found anything to shout about. Some of the highlights, possibly because they were hands-on, were a variety of interactive audiovisual demos from Gravit8, 4Wall, and an AI photobooth by Snapmatic.

While many expected artificial intelligence (AI) to be featured by many exhibitors, only a few did. AI did make its way to many of the education sessions, both as a central focus of sessions or discussed as a disruptive force that currently permeates most future-focused conversations.

The show’s awards recognized several event tech stalwarts. vFairs walked away with four awards. The one category focused on event tech innovation, Best Technology Start-Up, went to Eventflow, an exhibitor manual platform. There is no AI in sight here, just what seems to be a competent and attractive solution to an age-old problem of making exhibiting a more seamless process for organizers and exhibitors.

Exploring the Innovation Gap

Many things can explain the absence of event tech innovation. The lack of investment is certainly a factor. The Covid pandemic has disrupted innovation cycles, which is still an issue. Larger companies focus on offering comprehensive, all-in-one products that meet their customers’ feature requests. However, they are only adding those features that are frequently requested rather than investing in novel ideas. Recent mergers and acquisitions have led to disruptive innovation being left to startups.

While a business-focused trade show still makes sense, event technology is notoriously challenging to showcase visually through booth design. Audiovisual showcases or hardware systems, such as badging and access control, offer clear tactile experiences. Software tools such as event manager systems and content repurposing tools are essential browser-based platforms that take precious time to fully explore, time that is always too short while on-site.

New for this year was sharing the space with Event Sustainability Live, the show’s equivalent but focused on event sustainability. This meant that the area dedicated to event technology effectively shrunk by around a third.

The sustainability exhibition and conference followed an identical format with a small area primarily comprised of standardized booths and several education theatres spread across the show floor. Exhibitors were mainly focused on sustainable stand building, equipment, and furniture rental, with a few event sustainability consultancies as well.

Sustainability and technology proved to be a good match for attendees, with many seamlessly transitioning between the two shows. There were floor signs differentiating them, but it was clear that this seamless integration was intentional.

Event Tech Loves Education

The combined shows take up one of Excel London’s event halls, approximately 21,500 sq ft. Within this space, seven stages range from 100 to 20 seats. Additionally, there are areas for roundtable conversations and “meet the experts” stations. This is roughly equivalent to the education areas offered at IMEX America, a show spread over an area approximately 30 times larger.

The show’s focus on education has served it well over the years. It may also provide innovation through thought leadership on stage, even when the displayed products and services do not match attendees’ thirst for event tech innovation.

Event Tech Live and Event Sustainability Live are openly a hybrid mix of exhibition and conference. All education sessions were recorded on-site with a multi-camera setup, and the resulting recordings will be released soon.

Both shows featured high-level speakers representing some of the UK and Europe’s largest event agencies and trade show organizers. Attracting top professionals to speak also means they will likely explore the show floor during their time at the show, although that is not always the case, much to the dismay of exhibitors looking for buyers. The show did feature a small hosted buyer program to lure vetted event technology buyers to the show.

Event Tech Sandbox

Event Tech Live features quite a lot of technology. One surprise was on display outside the event itself. While arriving at Excel London, attendees could view details about education sessions and social media posts featured on large screens in the common area.

While showcasing multiple event technology tools is a valid way to get first-hand innovation experience, it makes for a less-than-ideal user experience. For example, this year’s show featured a simple mobile event app provided by Entegy, which allowed for badge scanning. Still, exhibitors needed to use a separate app from the same supplier to receive leads directly after scanning badges. Showcasing innovation at the cost of the user experience makes little sense.

The Mood Around Event Tech

Event technology is surviving, but perhaps not thriving, based on the mood around the show. For the most part, the companies that had a solid business model before the Covid pandemic are doing well. Most of the larger booths at the show belonged to the larger event tech companies, and the conversations were focused on in-person events.

One exception was the video cloud platform Kaltura, which had one of the larger booths and sponsored one of the education spaces. Conversely, Zoom Events was at the show but took only a tiny tabletop space at the Kickstart Zone. Although Zoom and Swoogo announced a partnership and exhibited jointly at IMEX America, they exhibited separately at Event Tech Live.

Development budgets at significant players seem to be all about incremental upgrades, not standalone innovations. The feeling is sluggish but sturdy, with the market still adapting to new realities and limited investments. Every event tech fan hopes for a strong year ahead. If IMEX America is anything to go by, Vegas is the place to be. Therefore, the show’s second Las Vegas edition in May may give us a more unambiguous indication of the real energy around event technology.

Photo credit: DALL-E / Prompt: In Search of Event Tech Innovation