ISE pours cold water on badge printing entry chaos fears

ISE is not forcing, just encouraging, people to print badges before arrival and will open four entrances to speed entry as pre-registrations soar, says MD Mike Blackman.


You might think, like me, that the badge policy of the world’s largest AV trade show is probably a dull subject to talk about even if it has some practical importance.

But if you thought that, like me, you would be wrong.

ISE’s badge policy is a topic that has stirred great passions, prompting many a social media user to put pen to paper (or fingertip to keyboard).

Just 18 months ago, ISE stopped using paper badges in favour of digital badges on phones. This was primarily to meet Covid safety requirements, but it also seemed to be worth trying as ISE is a show that features digital technology in its exhibition halls.

“We thought at the time that it was the right thing to do,” says Mike Blackman, managing director of Integrated Systems Events.

But it was a decision that provoked dozens of complaints and competing expressions of support, which we reported on here: “ISE unleashes the great digital badge debate of 2022“.

“The comments were really mixed,” says Blackman. “There were a lot of attendees who said, ‘We like the anonymity’. There were quite a few who said, ‘Actually no. I want people to know who I am’. But there was a big kickback from a lot of exhibitors who said, ‘We want to see who we are talking to.”

Then, for people who meet dozens and hundreds of people in the industry, paper badges served as a nudge to the memory.

In 2023, ISE reverted to requiring paper badges, at the request of a majority of exhibitors, only to find that this contributed to entry delays. As visitors flocked to the show, as the pandemic receded from view, the sheer numbers overwhelmed the availability of printers in the entrance arrangements that were available in 2023.

This year there is an emphasis on getting people to print badges out before arrival, and more entrance capacity, only for this to stir up controversy too.

The wording of an email that went out last week and of the ISE app appeared to give the impression that everyone attending – a number that could reach up to 80,000 people – would only be able to enter if they had printed out badges in advance.

There were fears that not enough people had colour inkjet printers at home and that the poor concierges of Barcelona hotels would be deluged with last-minute printing requests. Not only that but there were concerns that paper badges require plastic holders at a time of increasing concern about sustainability.

These are misconceptions that Blackman is keen to clear up. He shows me a badge holder, holding it up to the camera on a videoconferencing call. Its material is somewhere between cardboard and thick paper.

“It’s biodegradable. It’s very sustainable. It’s not going to end up in landfill,” he says. “We abandoned plastic badges many years ago.”

It is correct that ISE is encouraging the printing of badges in advance.  People who come with badges can just pick up a badge holder as they walk through the entrance.

“What slowed down the whole entrance process last year was the badge printing,” Blackman says. While ISE has fast printers, there were problems with scanners and QR codes such as people not holding their phone close enough. ISE is also limited in how many printers it can put in each entrance because of space availability.

To solve the latter problem, ISE is opening up more entrances. There will a north entrance, an east entrance, a south entrance, and a fourth entrance to the left of the south entrance, which will be open only during the morning rush.

There will still be printers on site. “But we’re saying if your print it beforehand, you will get in much faster.”

I’d gone through the ISE app before speaking to Blackman and the app tells people to print out their badges at home, without mentioning that they can also be printed out at the Fira de Barcelona Gran Via venue. “That’s a communication issue on our side, and perhaps we haven’t been clear enough there,” Blackman says.

To make entry to the show run more smoothly, ISE is also opening up halls 1 and 2 an hour before the rest of the show opens at 10am on the first day. Hall 1 contains the lighting and staging technology zone while Hall 2 contains residential on one side and collaboration tools on the other. The upper walkway, which gives access to all halls, will also be open from 9am too.

Opening up early will ensure that entrance areas do not get clogged up at the start of the day. “We are opening up at 9 o’clock to alleviate pressure and get people inside,” says Blackman. “What happens is that we get people who are coming in and getting a badge and then they have to wait till we open up. It’s a great media picture for us to have that crowd but it’s not a great customer experience to be just standing there and waiting.”

It is good that these measures are being taken now as the Fira de Barcelona Gran Via site is set to become 25% bigger in years to come, offering even more opportunities for growth.

A new Hall Zero is being built in a space formerly occupied by the Porcelanosa tiling company between the Fira’s south entrance and a tall red tower building.

“They laid the foundation stone just before Christmas. They’ve been excavating the site and working on it for a few months now but they’re on schedule. We should have it for ISE 2027,” Blackman says.

Even without future expansion in exhibition space, this year’s show is set to be big. ISE 2024 will have its biggest ever floor space, at 65,000 sq metres, with 115 new exhibitors booked in.

And pre-registrations are running 30% ahead of this point last year. “That would mean, if we keep at this level, we will get 100,000 pre-registrations.” You could then expect attendance at 85% of this figure.

But Blackman cautions that it is still too early to say what attendance will be.

Should anything like this number of attendees turn up, let’s hope they pay heed to the encouragement – not obligation – to print badges in advance, and make use of all of ISE 2024’s four entrances to speed entry.

Visitors to ISE 2024 who do come in via the well-known south entrance will notice something new this year: a giant transparent LED screen attached to the curved glass surface of the Fira de Barcelona Gran Via site.

The Muxwave transparent LED screen will be supported by Ventuz realtime server technology and content specialist Realtime Department, with installation by Spanish integrator Sono.

The transparent LED display will replace the posters and banners that ISE previously put up on the glass exterior and outside the Fira with something that is more representative of the exhibition.

“I’ve always been someone who says that we should be using the technology around our show,” says Blackman.

ISE’s day two keynote speaker, Jeroen van der Most, a digital artist whose skills include projection mapping and DJ-ing will even be giving a live performance on this screen, during the show.

This will be the first year that lighting and staging has its own zone in Hall 1. “A lot of companies who are new to the show are adding that part of the industry to ISE,” says Blackman.

And the show also has a new partner, the Plug and Play platform from Silicon Valley, for its start-up area, which will be running a pitching stage.

The Content Production & Distribution Zone in Hall 4 will even feature a Team New Zealand land yacht which broke the world land yacht speed record, in an ongoing partnership with the Americas Cup, which saw the organisation’s head of television, Stephen Nuttall, give the third keynote speech at ISE in 2023.

ISE is also giving back to the city of Barcelona, with a projection mapping performance at the Casa Batlló free of charge for the public. Having previously worked with pioneering generative AI artist Refik Anadol, the show will be working with neural artist Sofia Crespo who will also be giving an ISE keynote speech this year.

More initiatives in support of the city will be announced soon.

One comment

  1. Let the people who want to remain anonymous pay to get in. It’s the exhibitors who pay to make the event happen, and they need to know who they are talking to. It’s not a small price to pay, it’s nothing to pay to see all of the kit in one place. I’ve been an exhibitor and have paid the staggering sums of money to be on the show floor. Put your badge on. Good luck all, have a good show.

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