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Sat 18 Apr 2009 04:00 AM

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Riders on the storm

This month's PALME exhibition in Dubai will offer key insights into the economic health of the Middle East pro audio, lighting and live event production industries. Aaron Greenwood caught up with exhibition director Alex Heuff and asked him what sort of impact wider economic issues would have on this year's show.

Riders on the storm
Riders on the storm
MUSAC will showcase the latest range of musical instruments to hit the market.
Riders on the storm
PALME exhibitions director Alex Heuff.
Riders on the storm
The Powerhouse live stage proved a hit at last year’s show.
Riders on the storm
LOBO’s laser lighting demo is set to return in 2009.
Riders on the storm
RST’s laser lighting display at PALME 2008.

This month's PALME exhibition in Dubai will offer key insights into the economic health of the Middle East pro audio, lighting and live event production industries. Aaron Greenwood caught up with exhibition director Alex Heuff and asked him what sort of impact wider economic issues would have on this year's show.With tradeshows typically providing a barometer of the economic state of a particular industry sector, many pundits are eagerly awaiting the opening of PALME later this month to see what sort of impact the global economic downturn is having on the professional audio, lighting and live event production industries.

Information released to date by organiser IIR Exhibitions portends to a smaller event compared to last year, with both exhibitor numbers and floorspace down.

Exhibitions director Alex Heuff concedes "the new challenges facing the global markets and current economic climate have impacted on this year's show".

"Taking into account the new industry dynamics, floorspace has been reduced to 15,000 sqm, compared to 17,000sqm last year," he explains. "This year, we are welcoming more than 160 exhibitors representing 600 brands, compared to 200 exhibitors in 2008."

Heuff says the current climate has forced IIR to take a more creative approach to organising the event compared to previous years.

"The economic downturn has provided an opportunity to develop new ideas, introduce new features and respond to feedback received following last year's show," he says.

"This year, we have implemented an extensive marketing campaign promoting the event to a broader international audience. Indeed, an economic recession is a time when communication must prevail."

This approach has coincided with a shift in the demographic breakdown of exhibitors and delegates attending the show. According to Heuff, this year's PALME will feature fewer exhibitors from emerging territories and more from traditionally strong source markets such as the United States and Europe, reversing a trend towards the opposite which had emerged in recent years.

PALME 2009 Conference highlightsPALME 2009 will feature an expanded programme of conference seminars and workshops. The AV & Systems Integration Solutions conference will be staged over two days. The conference will kick off with the Install Roundtable Forum, which is being pitched as an opportunity for AV systems integrations specialists to network and discuss key technical and commercial issues impacting their businesses.

Later, the session will turn its focus to cases studies presented by companies including Omnix Media Networks, LOBO and Bond Communications. Key speakers will include Jasper Whitaker, head of business development for Omnix Media Networks, and Alex Hennig, creative director at LOBO. 

The second day of the conference, which is dedicated to showcasing the latest innovations in lighting technology, will feature a keynote address from Luz Lighting Design's Matthieu Larivee.

A series of seminars will run in parallel to the conference. The seminars will focus on a variety of topics including event safety and rigging as well as product seminars from companies including Da-lite, Extron, BSS, SAE Institute, Taiden, TSL, Tannoy, PMK, and Robert Juliet.

The event360 conference, which runs over five days, will focus on the key commercial challenges facing the live events production sector in the Middle East, particularly in light of the current economic downturn. Keynote speakers will include Ric Birch, master of ceremonies and creative consultant for the Beijing 2008 Olympics and Fatima Sadiqi, director general, Fes Festival of Sacred Music, Morocco.

PALME will also play host to the internationally acclaimed Syn-Aud-Con seminar on April 26 and 27.

The seminar, which will be presented by audio technology expert Pat Brown, will cover a variety of subjects including sound system tuning, loudspeaker equalisation and configuration.

 Further information and conference passes are available from the PALME website located at

"In terms of source markets, the economic downturn has not followed a generic pattern," says Heuff. "While we've noticed a clear retraction in the number of exhibitors from China and Taiwan, we've enjoyed an increase from established markets such as the UK and US. In total, we've got companies from more than 25 countries exhibiting at this year's show."

PALME 2009 will once again feature three sub-exhibition components targeting unique industry sectors.

Install Middle East will showcase the latest technologies and services from local and international AV systems integration specialists, MUSAC returns with an expanded musical instrument and accessories exhibit, while Event360 will demonstrate the best the region's booming live events production sector has to offer.

Heuff claims the exhibition will host "a range of product launches, including several exciting world firsts".

"A number of exhibitors have confirmed plans with us to launch new products at the show," he says. "The exhibition will also host a number of other firsts, including a striking Lobo Laser show and an Integrators Pavilion, which will run in conjunction with the automated systems zone showcasing the latest technologies for commercial and residential AV installations."

Other firsts include a networking area on the event360 showfloor dubbed the ‘in[e]vent forum', which is open to all show delegates.

The PALME DJ competition also makes a welcome return. Now in its sixth year, the competition has proven one of PALME's most popular initiatives and has provided local aspiring DJs from across the region the chance to showcase their talents - an opportunity they would otherwise be unlikely to receive. This year's final, which will be staged on April 28, will be sponsored by Pioneer and Pacemaker.

A&O Technology to showcase palm installThe Abu Dhabi-based subsidiary of German lighting manufacturer A&O Technology will scale back its presence at this year's PALME exhibition in favour of creating a showcase lighting installation using a villa property located on the Palm Jumeirah.

Thomas Linke, head of sales - rental for A&O Technology Middle East, says the property installation will provide the perfect opportunity to showcase the company's products in a "real-world" environment to key clients.

"We have decided to go in slightly a different direction at this year's [PALME]," he explains.

"We will have a small booth to display products at the show but we're also planning to temporarily install a number of fixtures on a property located on the Palm, which we will invite our clients to come and have a look at."

Linke says the initiative will provide another alternative for the company to meet with its clients during PALME.

"We believe it will be more relevant for our business to have an open house where our clients can take a look at our latest products in a relaxed atmosphere."

In addition to its manufacturing capability, A&O's rental business has enjoyed considerable success in the Middle East, having supplied fixtures to Justin Timberlake's Abu Dhabi gig in 2007, and consecutive annual Dubai International Financial Centre celebrations. 

Linke says the company remains confident despite the economic downturn, which he claims is having a greater impact on A&O's larger rivals in the region. 

"The major suppliers and rental companies are struggling because they've invested in high-end equipment that is proving surplus to market requirements during the downturn," he argues. "In the lighting business, the key to success lies in targeting niche sectors, such as effects stage lighting and follow spots. By comparison, the market is flooded with moving heads at the moment.

"Dubai is still generating 60% of our business, but we are happy to maintain our HQ in Abu Dhabi, particularly considering the number of major infrastructure projects coming up in the emirate."

RST's laser lighting display at PALME 2008.