Glass Houses: Replitech to Media-tech: The Torch is Passed, but Will it Stay Lit?
Posted Jun 1, 2003

What is the difference between REPLItech and Media-Tech, anyway? That Media-Tech has yet to be overthrown by ex post facto exhibitor revolt? Or that Media-Tech will be spared that fate since it's essentially an exhibitor-driven answer to its late, little-lamented predecessor?

Admittedly, these questions really won't be answered until after this year's Media-Tech show, slated for May 13-15 in Las Vegas. Perhaps Media-Tech will return to REPLItech's roots, so to speak. In its early days, REPLItech was the hottest show around for anyone interested in manufacturing. It was a place to see the newest equipment actually running, and to meet anyone and everyone in the industry. Over the years, it became politically charged. The squabbling superseded the event—or should I say events? One of the biggest gripes about REPLItech was that there were three shows—U.S., Europe, and Asia. Too many shows, all too expensive, the complaint went. Although I am not an equipment manufacturer, I saw that argument as a little weak, since a lot of business is being done on different continents, and a trade show is still the best way to reach out to potential customers both at home and abroad. Although there is one Media-Tech trade show in the U.S., there is still a conference in Europe, and other trade shows in Asia are still important to attend. It's a matter of semantics. One show goes away, and sooner or later another one pops up.

Perhaps the real question here is not whether or not there should be three shows, but whether there should be any replication show at all. At the writing of this piece, 140 companies were slated to exhibit. We've all read the articles, some of which I've written myself, about entertainment's move to the Internet and how the need for physical media is dwindling. While that may be true to some extent, sometimes I think that it just makes for a more interesting article than does news in replication. Here's a reality check: While CD-Audio replication is expected to decline from 1.61 billion units to 1.57 billion units this year, DVD-Video is expected to increase from 960 million in 2002 to 1.23 billion in 2003. While DVD-ROM and DVD-Audio are minor blips on the screen, they are also growing. Total U.S. replication, according to the International Recording Media Association's worldwide Market Intelligence Service, will grow from 4.15 billion in 2002 to 4.33 billion in 2003; anticipated worldwide growth is from 11.15 billion to 11.75 billion. Those growth rates are hardly astronomical, but they're still up.

Karl Renwanz, president of Video Transfer Inc., sees a definite need for a manufacturing show. "Many REPLItech exhibitors offered nuggets of gold for duplicators and replicators as far as sources of materials," he said. "Last year, Media-Tech didn't attract little guys offering ancillary support products, but I'm hopeful that will be different this year." Despite the fact that Video Transfer is not looking to buy a lot of big equipment this year, his company will send three representatives to the Media-Tech show. "We're all looking for an edge that will help us get product out the door more quickly. We also want to know what equipment is out there so if we do need to increase capacity, we'll know what the most promising options are."

"It's not a stagnant industry by any stretch," adds Dale Butrymovicz, vice president of Singulus Technologies. "There's still innovation, and there is a need to see these things. REPLItech was always a good forum for announcing innovation, and Media-Tech should offer the same opportunity."

Another reason replicators want to attend Media-Tech is that many feel it is important to get together with others in the industry to talk about key issues, even—perhaps especially—in difficult economic times, and in an industry constricted by consolidation and retrenchment. Can Media-Tech meet these kinds of needs?

"True issues for us often get glossed over in conference programs," says Tom O'Reilly, director of marketing at replicator OEM. "Either you're not allowed to talk about issues such as pricing, or people just don't want to talk about the truly key issues. That's when conferences become a waste of time." He and others have told me that they enjoy trade group meetings, such as that of the American Independent Media Manufacturing Association (which, in fact, will be holding its semi-annual meeting during the show) and International Disc Duplicating Association (IDDA), more than conferences because people will actually share information there. This is especially important for the smaller and mid-sized companies.

My only fear about Media-Tech is that complacency will set in, as it did with REPLItech, and the show's creators will stop listening to their constituents—the death knell for any trade show. While Media-Tech was originally spawned by machinery manufacturers unhappy with the direction of REPLItech, ultimately many of the show's sponsors are the same (including EMedia). There are many lessons to be learned from REPLItech's mistakes. REPLItech achieved success for the first 10 years, but the organizers proved unwilling or unable to adapt to changes in the industry, the technology, and the economic climate. "There are lots of people that can learn from that mistake if the torch is to truly be passed," says O'Reilly.

To be fair to Media-Tech, while many harbor high hopes for its success, this may not be the year to measure its worth most accurately. Fear of travel because of the war and the threat of terrorism, as well as a sluggish U.S. economy, may keep away some who might otherwise attend. That said, I am certain there is still a need for a manufacturing show, and I don't see that need disappearing or diminishing in the foreseeable future.