SBES floored by a combination of factors

The recession isn’t the only reason behind the demise of the Sound Broadcasting Equipment Show, writes Kevin Hilton. The global financial meltdown is a likely culprit for the demise of this year's SBES but its fate also raises questions about the validity of specialist national trade exhibitions.
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The recession isn’t the only reason behind the demise of the Sound Broadcasting Equipment Show, writes Kevin Hilton.

The global financial meltdown is a likely culprit for the demise of this year's SBES but its fate also raises questions about the validity of specialist national trade exhibitions.

Steve Angel, sales director of HHB, observes: “We always found SBES useful but it had trouble dragging itself into the new age. There are now new ways of getting information about technologies and products, so people don’t have to truck up to Birmingham on a wet Wednesday in November.”

Canford was once a regular at SBES but did not take a stand at last year’s show. “We decided to put SBES on a rotation basis,” explains Iain Elliott, Canford’s director of strategy. “Our business was about radio when we started but we’ve since expanded into audio-for-TV and installation, so we now do about 12 shows a year, including the big ones like IBC and PLASA, along with smaller, specialist events.”

Elliott considers that the economy was not a major factor in the demise of SBES: “People spend more in a recession to get the message out there. We restructured the company this year but didn’t touch the marketing department or its budget.”

The narrow remit of the SBES – radio and location recording equipment – could also have been a factor, as, amid fears that those areas were becoming saturated, many exhibitors moved into audio-for-TV to broaden market share and turnover.

Malcolm Johnson of the Institute of Broadcast Sound (IBS) comments that the end of SBES was “anticipated”, particularly after the “very small” 2008 event. “This has more to do with the way technology is changing,” he says. “Radio now depends more on computer technology than the traditional hardware that I grew up with.”

Sonifex recently extended its product base to include audio-for-TV equipment, but managing director Marcus Brooke feels a combination of the recession and “the maturity of the UK radio broadcast industry” did for the Birmingham show. “Radio companies don’t necessarily need to re-equip,” he explains.

“Without new radio licences being issued and with a recession in place, which is hitting the advertising revenue the radio and TV operators rely on, it’s meant that investment in equipment has seen a sharp decline. The specialist nature of SBES became too specialist with not enough companies able to support it.”

Along with other manufacturers Sonifex has found a new marketplace in BVE (Broadcast Video Expo, pictured above), held in February at Earl’s Court 2 in London. But for those working solely in the radio sector the loss of SBES raises the question of where to promote products and the corporate message. Dan McQuilliam, managing director of Broadcast Bionics, says the non-running of the show was “disappointing”, especially as he thought last year’s was good despite expectations, and will make communicating with the industry more difficult.

“The show had been changing rather than declining,” he adds. “The radio industry has consolidated, especially at the top end, so we can visit the big groups in London. But reaching the rest of the industry, including community and student stations, will be harder.”

There is the potential for a “son of SBES” exhibition, somewhere for IT directors – the equivalent of the chief engineers of yore – to discuss the hot topics and look at the latest technology. The Community Media Association and the Hospital Radio Association have conferences along these lines and the Radio Academy organises the Techcon forum. There is the hope that this could be extended to incorporate a small show but a spokeswoman for the Radio Academy said its 2010 calendar had not been finalised.

In the meantime companies with a foot in the TV market are signing up for BVE. The 2010 event already has over 20 audio companies booked, including Aspen Media, Audio-Technica, eMerging and Glensound, which is making its BVE debut. “We would like BVE to represent all the broadcast audio market and attract the relevant visitors, whether they’re in TV, OB or audio,” says Glensound’s sales and marketing manager, Marc Wilson.

For the first time BVE will have a stand-alone audio conference theatre, with the IBS and De Lane Lea contributing to the programme. Kieron Seth, event director of BVE organiser VCM Events, explains that when the news about SBES broke a meeting was held with many Birmingham regulars to gauge what the London show could do to accommodate them. “They said the audio industry is not just about radio or TV sound but the whole thing, including music production,” he comments. “So audio will be integrated within the entire show.”

SBES organiser David McVittie visited BVE in recent years to get an impression of where the wider broadcast market was moving and how he might be able to incorporate new elements into SBES. These attempts proved unsuccessful and after last year’s show McVittie was considering returning to a one-day format. Despite best efforts McVittie could not be contacted for a comment.

Audio trade exhibitions have come and gone, others have been reinvented. As Marcus Brooke at Sonifex says, the loss of SBES is “a wake-up call” but the general consensus is that someone has to have the will, or a new angle, to pick up the baton.


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