BERLIN (Reuters) – Six months after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the sudden cancellation of the Mobile World Congress, the technology trade fair business is mounting a comeback with a scaled-back version of the IFA consumer electronics fair in Berlin.
Yet this year’s edition of the event, first held in 1924, is shaping up to be a lot like Champions League soccer – the players are on the pitch, the support staff are on the touchline, but the stadium is empty.
“A normal IFA, with 240,000 visitors and 6,000 media representatives from 80 countries just isn’t practical,” IFA Director Dirk Koslowski told Reuters before the event, which is open only to trade and media.
The trade fair business in Europe was brought to a juddering halt by the pandemic, with the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the ITB travel fair in Berlin and the Geneva Car Show all called off at the end of February.
In planning its return, IFA chose to stage a ‘hybrid’ version of the gathering, which traditionally kicks off the pre-Christmas shopping season, featuring a combination of online and in-person events.
U.S. chipmaker Qualcomm <QCOM.O> kicked off proceedings with a keynote address at which it launched chipsets to power cheap 5G phones and ‘always on, always connected’ laptops for people working at home.
But the presentation, by Qualcomm President Cristiano Amon, was a pre-recorded video – he wasn’t able to travel to Berlin.
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More worryingly for the organisers, the disruption caused by the pandemic has accelerated a trend for big-name brands to stage their own, standalone product launches before a global online audience.
South Korea’s Samsung Electronics <005930.KS> has just held events to promote its second-generation Fold2 folding phone and the latest product range from its booming home appliances division.
China’s Huawei Technologies [HWT.UL], a major sponsor of the congress circuit, is also giving a video keynote address at IFA but is saving big product announcements for its developer conference in Shenzen on Sept. 10.
That leaves just a corner of the vast Berlin trade fair ground occupied by smaller players battling for market share in an industry that has held up well despite a broader slump, as people spend more on home working, cooking and entertainment.
“IFA is an extremely important event for us, irrespective of the format, because it is a great opportunity for us to connect with the industry and update our customers,” said Frederic Langin, head of European sales and marketing at smart TV maker TCL Electronics <1070.HK>.
Paolo Pescatore, a well-travelled analyst, is staying away this year
“It’s hard to justify attending in person given the lack of products to see – as well as all key sessions streamed online,” he said. “In-person events have changed for ever.”
(Reporting by Douglas Busvine; Editing by Mark Potter)