Paul Kent: Macworld Expo 2012 Will Be a Festival

| Ted Landau's User Friendly View

Macworld Expo 2012Forget the traditional increasingly stodgy Macworld Expo. The 2012 Expo is going to be something entirely new and different. Call it a “celebration” or a “festival.” Whatever you call it, Macworld Expo 2012 will be an opportunity to get together and “facilitate the joy of being an Apple user.”

Those are the words that Paul Kent, General Manager of Macworld Expo, kept stressing when I interviewed him recently. His vision of the new Macworld Expo is somewhere between Comic-Con and Macworld Expo’s of the past.

If you’re concerned that this means the end of the technical training that has always been a tent pole of Macworld Expo, you can relax. When I specifically asked Paul if the Expo would be shifting away from technical sessions to more “consumer” activities, he replied “Not as long as I’m involved in it. A core technical training ethos remains intact.” As evidence, he noted that there will still be a Mac IT event as well as full day workshops.

True enough. However, what in previous years has been the Users Conference is undergoing a major overhaul. This gets to the second point that Paul repeatedly emphasized: The speaker format changes in 2012 are not meant to replace the old content (at least not entirely). Rather they are “additive.” The are intended to provide attendees with more choices. Making a comparison to yet another popular conference, Paul claimed that Expo 2012 will be more like South by Southwest, combining technical training with performance and other entertainment.

Macworld Expo 2012 takes place from January 26-28 (with the full day workshops on January 25). Registration doesn’t open until the first week of October. However, the Expo staff have already issued a Call for Speaking Proposals. Actually, “speakers” is a misnomer at this point; “presenters” is a better term. It was the novel descriptions cited on this web page that prompted me to sit down and talk with Paul about what it all meant. What follows are excerpts from the interview:

Ted Landau: There are two major new options for speakers: Main Stage and Out-of-the-Box Events. What’s behind these names?

Paul Kent: First, let me make clear that the names are not final and may change between now and October. That said, the Main Stage idea is derived from last year’s Industry Event and Keynote presentations. There will be a single Main Stage, a 2000 seat auditorium. There will be only one session at a time, not several concurrent sessions. Main Stage sessions should have the widest possible appeal, of interest to the entire conference delegation.

The Main Stage will be for the best of the best. It is where you’ll find the most renowned journalists, consultants, technologists, and writers. It will of course include technical training — with coverage of Lion, iOS 5 and all of Apple’s latest hardware. But it will also be for creative presentations inspired by or created with Apple products — such as a film or a musical performance.

The Out-of-the-Box Events offer a completely different take on content. There will be how-to sessions — although the emphasis will be on more niche vertical-market content than on the Main Stage. But we also want to help users celebrate the Apple experience. We don’t want stuff you can see on YouTube. We are looking for unique content. Ideas could include an Apple-inspired ‘last comic standing,’ a fashion show or performances by people lesser-known than those on the Main Stage. We plan for several such events to run concurrently.

The idea is to give attendees a choice. Want a break from learning about Photoshop layers? Go hear a band perform.

TL: With the Main Stage limited to only one session at a time, does this mean there will be less content than in previous years?

PK: No. The total content depends upon what proposals come in. If we get 1000 interesting submissions, we’ll try to find a way to include them all. Also don’t forget that the Main Stage sessions will be from 20 - 40 minutes, which is shorter than User Conference sessions in years past. We also intend to blow up the concept of time and space. We may have sessions in the evening. After all, the conference hall is ours for the entire 24 hours of each day.

Speaking of evenings, there will be a two-hour RapidFire event one evening. Presenters will have 5 minutes to explain some concept or feature. It can be anything — from how to write an Excel macro to how to use an iPad to buy a car. We’ll have a prize for the best speaker at the end of the night.

TL: The Main Stage seems too big for topics that might only appeal to a couple of hundred users. Will there be any place for smaller traditional slideshow how-to presentations?

PK: Such sessions could be an Out-of-the-Box Event. We could have in-the-box out-of-the-box sessions. Again, what we have will ultimately depend on what gets submitted.

TL: What prompted you to make all of these changes?

PK: Change is good. Our traditional format is appreciated by many users — but a fixed number of users. If we want to expand that base (and we do), we need to offer something more. We want a more festival like environment — with creative and technical activities going on at same time.

TL: Were any of these changes prompted by Apple’s decision to withdraw from the Expo several years ago?

PK: Apple’s absence actually enabled us to make these changes. We had a close relationship with Apple, one that was very productive. But it limited what type of events we could offer. We are now empowered to be more creative.

TL: If you really want the widest possible audience for these events, I’m guessing you’ll need to reduce the cost. For example, I can imagine that what had been an Exhibit Hall Only pass will now get you into at least some of these new events. Is this the case?

PK: I can’t answer that yet. Wait until October 1 when all the details will be announced.

TL: Speaking of the Exhibit Hall (or show floor, as it’s often called), are you “de-emphasizing” the floor this year, in favor of all of this new content?

PK: Not at all. The show floor remains a foundation of the Expo. Our rental of floor space is already ahead of last year.

TL: In a column I wrote last year, describing my take on the Expo, I cited two main trends in the show floor: the absence of most major vendors (such as Adobe and Microsoft) and an increased emphasis on iOS products as opposed to the Mac. Will these trends be evident again this year?

PK: We don’t decide what the emphasis will be. Our show floor is open to anyone. We want everyone to come. Who finally decides to come has always been a mirror of the vibrancy of the current market. A few years ago, it was iPods. Now it’s iOS devices.

The vendors with the most new stuff, the ones in the most competition with other companies, the ones that are most interested in getting the attention of the press and consumers that attend Macworld Expo — these are the vendors who sign up.

We look forward to more Mac OS X stuff this year. We still want vendors such as Adobe and Microsoft to return. If and when it makes sense for them to do so, they will. Never say never. It is also our hope that the new speaking formats will be a stimulus to attract new vendors.

TL: What about the big names in iOS developers — especially games? I’m particularly thinking about one of my personal favorites, Angry Birds. Will Rovio and other big-name iOS developers be on the floor this year?

PK: We don’t treat games as any unique area of the floor. However, we have spoken to the folks at Rovio. We have some ideas to do some special things with them. More generally, we expect the Mobile Apps Showcase to remain a vibrant part of show floor.

TL: Any other surprises in store for this year that you can tell us about now?

PK: I can only say that the call for speakers was the first hint that a lot of things are changing for Macworld Expo. The next hint will be in the first week of October when registration opens. Pricing and packaging will be announced then. More hints and announcements will come after that. This is going to be the most energizing, most full of new stuff Expo that we have ever done.

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4 Comments

archimedes

Good questions, Ted - and less than encouraging answers, Paul!

Here’s what I’d like to see at Macworld 2012 for the exhibit halls:

- Separate areas for Mac OS and iOS exhibitors where possible (i.e. “Macworld” and “iWorld” sections), with the exception of games, which should probably be combined in a “game zone” of the hall

- Organization by theme (e.g. games, productivity/office, graphics and visual arts/design, music) whenever possible

- A separate area for accessories such as cases

- Larger booths for iOS apps (rather than four developers sharing a tiny table)

- Game areas with scheduled demos and tournaments for both Mac and iOS games
  “We don’t treat games as any unique area of the floor” = fail. Put the games together!

- More on-the-floor sessions including tutorials, demos, panels, etc. (Macworld magazine’s sessions were a highlight of last year’s otherwise mostly depressing show)

- A comprehensive schedule app which includes all of the on-the-floor exhibit hall sessions

Shawn King

- Separate areas for Mac OS and iOS exhibitors where possible (i.e. ?Macworld? and ?iWorld? sections)

It already is done “where possible” but booths are more often grouped via size, not speciality.

with the exception of games, which should probably be combined in a ?game zone? of the hall

There hasn’t been a dedicated gaming area at Macworld Expo for years and there isn’t likely to be any time in the near future.

Larger booths for iOS apps (rather than four developers sharing a tiny table)

LOL IDG would *love* to sell those folks larger booths. But if they don’t want to pay for them, IDG doesn’t hand them out for free or out of the goodness of their hearts. Remember, the devs who are at those “tiny table” booths *choose* to be there - IDG doesn’t force them there.

?We don?t treat games as any unique area of the floor? = fail. Put the games together!

Not possible. There’s not enough gaming companies that exhibit at Expo to make that work.

More on-the-floor sessions including tutorials, demos, panels, etc.

Keep in mind, IDG charges for those Conference Sessions when they are off the show floor. You’re asking them to give up significant revenue as well as creating non-revenue generating space on the show floor. While Macworld Expo may feel like a community, it is run as a business and therefore, needs to make money.

A comprehensive schedule app which includes all of the on-the-floor exhibit hall sessions

They have had that in past years. Again, keep in mind, creating that app costs money. IDG has to decide if it generates enough return to make it worthwhile.

If you’d like to hear (as opposed to read) more from Paul Kent, I did an interview with him earlier this week. It’s available here:
http://yourmaclifeshow.com/inthenews/2011/08/02/interview-paul-kent-gm-macworld-expo

archimedes

Shawn, thanks for your response and your interview.

It’s discouraging about the exhibit hall - the answer/excuse, as always, seems to be “to make it suck less would cost money and nobody wants to pay for it.”  The hidden part of the answer is “fewer exhibitors are interested in paying for large, high-quality exhibit booths now that Apple and most of the top-tier exhibitors such as Adobe, Microsoft, etc. have abandoned the show.”

I’d like to see some more innovative thinking from the conference organizers on how to make the entire show, including the exhibit hall, better for EVERYONE - attendees, exhibitors, and conference organizers.

I don’t want to end up at iPadCase Expo 2012.

Regarding the YML interview, Paul Kent’s idea of making Macworld more like SXSW and Comic-Con is interesting - I had a pretty good time at Comic-Con, in spite of the fatal mistake that it made by not clearing auditoriums between sessions, which led to absurd lines where only the first 50 people in line would get into a session. Hopefully he is also thinking about making the Macworld conference sessions affordable for regular people.

Shawn King

Shawn, thanks for your response and your interview.

You’re very welcome.

It?s discouraging about the exhibit hall - the answer/excuse, as always, seems to be ?to make it suck less would cost money and nobody wants to pay for it.?

I think of that less as an answer/excuse and more as a simple fact of corporate reality. Things cost money. IDG does a lot of stuff for free but, at the end of the day, they are still a business that needs to make money.

The hidden part of the answer is ?fewer exhibitors are interested in paying for large, high-quality exhibit booths now that Apple and most of the top-tier exhibitors such as Adobe, Microsoft, etc. have abandoned the show.?

I would disagree with that. Vendors don’t actually care if Apple, Adobe, Microsoft, et al attend Macworld Expo. Some actually *like* that the Big Guys don’t attend All a show floor vendor cares about is eyeballs - they more eyes that come by their booth, the greater chance they have of making deals and sales.

Granted, Apple, Adobe, Microsoft, et al bring those eyeballs to the show floor but there are ways to get people to attend the show without those companies.

It’s also incumbent upon the Mac community to *support* the show. To show up, talk to vendors, buy products, tell their friends what they say, etc. That kind of encouragement from showgoers goes a long way to the future success and health of Macworld Expo.

I?d like to see some more innovative thinking from the conference organizers on how to make the entire show, including the exhibit hall, better for EVERYONE - attendees, exhibitors, and conference organizers.

They are certainly trying that - and they have in the past. While you personally may not have been impressed with some of the conference/sessions/floor activities, lots of others may have been. It’s a tough job IDG has, trying to make *all* of the groups you mention, and many others, happy with Expo. As much as I complain and bitch about Expo, I sure as hell wouldn’t want Paul Kent’s job.

I don?t want to end up at iPadCase Expo 2012.

The problem is, you’ll end up at whatever show the vendors want to pay for. If it turns out case manufacturers buy more booth space than game developers, you’ll be at iPadCase Expo 2012. IDG isn’t about to turn away vendors and turn down cash in order to force the show into a particular niche.

Face it - right now, the iOS devices are what’s hot in the Mac Community. Those are the people who have the money and desire to buy booth space at Macworld Expo.

Hopefully he is also thinking about making the Macworld conference sessions affordable for regular people.

He is - but he is also trying to balance “affordable” with the constraints of “need to make money to keep this thing viable” is a very difficult job.

BTW, define “affordable”. An IT Conference badge may cost $2000 but if you get $10,000 of value out of it for you and/or your company, isn’t that affordable? I do an all day Photography seminar that cost between $100 and $400 for the day. I guarantee there is more value in that class than what you pay but only the customer can decide if that is “affordable”.

Bottom line is, given the challenges, IDG World Expo puts on a fun, informative and mostly interesting Expo each year and the people who put on the show work very hard to try and make it the best week you’ll spend learning about your Macintosh and interacting with the Mac Community.

I guarantee that if you have some ideas of things you’d like to see or changes you’d like to make, pass them on to Paul or others at EDG World Expo. They mauy not implement them but I know they want to hear from the community as to what kind of show they want to attend.

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