IFA 2021 backtracks on return to normality

Mike Wheatley

The Internationale Funkausstellung Berlin 2021 exhibition show will not be a “full-scale, real-life event” after all, as the organisers have done a U-turn and said in-person events will be cancelled due to the uncertain and rapidly changing situation around the COVID-19 pandemic.


The IFA show, which takes place annually in Berlin, Germany, is the biggest technology fair of its kind in Europe and one that TV lovers look forward to with anticipation as companies such as LG Electronics, Samsung Electronics, Panasonic, Sony, Philips and others showcase their latest big-screen innovations.

One of the biggest draws of IFA is that the general public is admitted to the show following the official press and trade days, unlike other exhibitions that typically exclude them. It means that anyone who wants to can go and see the latest new products and innovations in person, rather than waiting for them to arrive in the shops.

IFA’s organisers had stated last month that this year’s edition of the show would mark a “return to normality” with thousands of people allowed to attend in person, following IFA 2020’s largely virtual affair.

But this week they tweeted: “We planned, hoped and tried to make the impossible possible – and yet had to cancel #IFA2021. We're #heartbroken, but full of confidence for #IFA2022!”

The decision to cancel this year’s show, which was to take place from September 3 to September 7, was taken in light of new global health concerns around the pandemic.

In a press release the organisers noted the rapidly changing situation, including the emergence of new strains of COVID in places like the U.K., Brazil and India, and uncertainties around the rollout of vaccination programmes in many parts of the world. They said this makes it almost impossible for companies and visitors to plan a safe trip to Berlin.

Another problem is that Messe Berlin, the traditional venue of IFA, is also being used as a vaccination center and an emergency hospital, and it’s not clear how long that situation will go on for.

"Unfortunately, the latest public health developments introduced too much risk into everybody's planning for the event,” said Kai Hillebrandt, chairman of the supervisory board of gfu Consumer & Home Electronics GmbH. “There simply are now too many uncertainties. Therefore, right now it has become near impossible for anyone to responsibly plan their participation in any trade show.”

Last year’s IFA 2020 show largely took place online, with only a limited number of invited journalists and company representatives appearing in person. The format was relatively successful, and it’s likely that IFA 2021 will now be a similar event.

Last January’s Consumer Electronics Show 2021 also took place entirely in the virtual world. The Consumer Technology Association has said that CES 2022 will return to Las Vegas as a traditional, in person event, though it will retain many elements of this year’s online exhibition.