Learning About New Technology Means Survival

Learning About New Technology Means Survival

Next month is InfoComm (Exhibits June 18-20) and you should already have some idea of what kinds of technology you are going to be looking for. And I expect that the conversations in many AV Rental and Staging offices right now revolve around how the company won't be spending as much this year on new equipment because of the economy. That's a reasonable response to uncertainty, but I want to challenge you to think beyond the equipment and focus on new ways to use that technology. It doesn't have to new to the industry - just new to you. Because, the companies that shine through uncertain times are those that embrace opportunities and take uncharted risks. Content development is the new frontier of staging.

InfoComm this year is an extra-special opportunity because of its co-location with the NXTcomm show (www.nxtcommshow.com). Your InfoComm exhibit pass also gets you onto NXTcomm's exhibit floor (June 17-19). This matters to you because what goes on in the telecom world affects how your customers receive, understand, and share information. The line between telecom and IT has been all but eliminated. The battle for control between IT and AV has yet to play out in corporate headquarters (although IT has the upper hand). And IT and Telecom have been creeping into ballrooms for many years. It is only a matter of time before our traditional solutions and approach to staging shows no longer meet the expectations of our increasingly sophisticated audiences.

What all of these opportunities have in common is that AV can be and often is the endpoint for telecommunications. A convention ballroom with a large audience is simply an economically practical collection of endpoints, which brings me to my position. There are three areas where I think Stagers have strategic opportunities in today's market. They are all driven by what is being applied in boardrooms at today's leading corporations. And none of them look like traditional Rental & Staging:

Telepresence is about creating a life-like virtual experience between groups of people. This goes beyond video conferencing systems in small rooms; telepresence recreates the physical experience with complex audio and video solutions - and it does work on stages in front of large audiences (go to YouTube and search "Cisco Telepresence Magic"). Telepresence is also an inherently Green solution - something that needs to become part of our lexicon if the AV Meetings industry wants to survive.

At NXTcomm you can find products, solutions, and delivery tools that support telepresence and every other digital information format. After spending a few hours on the NXTcomm exhibit floor, walk back to InfoComm and feel the difference. All of a sudden the multitude of black boxes, processors, and configurable widgets starts to make more sense. AV integration has become all about meshing seamlessly with IT networks. The next frontier: Live Events.

Information Networking
If you only think of Information Technology as personal computers and phones talking to each other over the Internet, then you might be missing what's really happening. Two-thirds of all Internet traffic is video content. IT is also about control systems, content delivery, digital signage, security, paging, inventory tracking, HVAC, ad infinitum. In Universities and offices around the world, the IT networking experience is vastly different from our own. The movement of information from one person to another is typically seamless. The process is highly efficient and intuitive for its users. When users come to a meeting at a hotel or convention center, they often leave all that behind. They don't have to, because the worlds of IT and Telecom can allow this level of networking to happen anywhere. Corporate networks are coming to your ballroom, and Stagers will have to conform.

Digital Content
If you are going to be an expert at transmitting and displaying content, then you should also be an expert in creating it. I know this goes against the grain for many rental folks, but it's not like I am suggesting that you be better at it than your customers (but sometimes that's not difficult). Just know how to do it better than they do. Take a look at what is going on in Lighting Design, which is fast becoming Audiovisual Design. Media servers are being integrated into live events like gaff tape. Lighting Designers are mastering Adobe After Effects and Final Cut Pro. If we're not careful, it won't be long before we are all dependent on the Master Electrician to setup the show IT network.

A similar shift is taking place in Digital Signage. The people who control the content end up controlling the delivery (more information networking). All that is left is the endpoint (signage in all its forms), so why not control that too? If you avoid the content creation process you risk sacrificing your position on the delivery hardware: projectors, screens, sound systems, displays, et cetera.

Keep a Straight Face
One of the hardest skills to learn in AV Staging is how to not look surprised when your customer asks for a creative solution. If it hasn't happened already, expect to be asked to network your show systems into corporate AV/IT backbones. Be ready to pipe in a live presenter (and content) from anywhere in the world without even thinking about calling it a downlink or videoconference. We are no longer re-inventing the wheel; we are just opening a connection to our endpoint. In order to learn how to keep a straight face, spend some time immersed in technologies that take information networking for granted.

In conclusion, this may not be a big year for buying technology and that is a simple economic reality. Strategically, this is a critical year for getting current on content creation and management. Strategy is all about finding the edge or path that others fail to recognize. Just because everyone may be looking in the same haystack, doesn't mean YOU won't be the one to find the needle. See you in Las Vegas.

Market Snapshot

  • By Tom Stimson, CTS
  • By all accounts 2008 is shaping into another great year for AV Rental & Stagers. 64% of this months survey respondents indicate that first quarter revenue results are good or better than expected. Compared to Q1 2007, 20% percent say they are up by 20 percent or more, and 41 percent are up between 6 to 19 percent. Only 20 percent of respondents say they are down from last year and 19 percent are more or less flat.

All in all this is great news. That doesnt mean that all the talk about the state of the economy and recession hasn't received attention. In fact, most of the stagers I have visited with recently are very much aware that a downturn in business should be coming. However, only 34 percent of the survey respondents are downgrading their forecasts for the remainder of the year. 59 percent are keeping their predictions intact and a few are upgrading expectations.

Our essay question this month asked if folks were any better prepared for an economic downturn today than in 2001. The responses held to three major themes: being leaner and meaner, diversification of customer base, and reduced debt. Most everyone felt they were ready for whatever comes.

We are better prepared to weather an economic downturn now than in 2001. Since 2001 we have expanded our capabilities, and are able to offer more services to a broader range of customers. Being versatile and having the ability to adapt to the ever-changing atmosphere, we believe, is essential to success. - Mike Aug, Vice President, Event Tech

If we've learned anything, it's to stay nimble, grab success while we can, and roll up like a hedgehog when times get lean. We are more diverse since 9/11, but that means higher cost structure, so we are prepared for layoffs if that becomes necessary. - Anonymous

Our organization has been forced to run much "leaner and meaner" since 2001. Because of this we are better prepared for slowdowns, and have learned how to deal with greater business volume more effectively.
- Anonymous

Download the complete April 08 Survey including dozens more illuminating comments from respondents at: www.trstimson.com/surveys.
Each month The Stimson Group conducts a short survey of AV industry professionals about a variety of topics. To participate in or comment on those surveys, email: surveys@trstimson.com.