by Kirsten Nelson
My favorite AV industry stories tend to involve incredible feats of access. I've talked to people who work behind the scenes in all sorts of top-secret and high-risk locations. But I have to confess, even the most basic equipment room can seem elite, with its bevy of patch cables (yes, those still exist, as I'm sure SCN readers know) and rows of blinking blue lights. Behind locked doors and up in catwalks, AV professionals are the James Bonds of behind-the-scenes technical operations.
So last month when Bosch offered me the opportunity to tour Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, I hopped on a plane in the middle of our production week and went. It was well worth it. Featuring the largest HD video display in the world, one of the largest architectural arches in the world, and the world's biggest motorized retractable glass doors on either end of the stadium (the doors must be opened simultaneously or the suction would blow people right out of their seats), the place was meant to dazzle.
That's precisely why Bosch brought its security and communications divisions together with dealers and consultants for a grand tour that humbled the mind and put several miles on the treads of our shoes as more than 400 guests meandered through concourses and up and down freight elevators between the field and the very top levels of the stadium.
It has been almost a year since Bosch combined its Security Systems and Communications Systems divisions in the Americas, and the successful result of that realignment was in evidence at this event. "It's actually somewhat incredible to think that it was only 11 months ago, because now we're operating as a single business in a very effective way," noted Jeremy Hockham, president of sales for Bosch Americas. As a result of the smooth transition, Hockham elaborated, Bosch did not become mired in logistics and instead was able to maintain a focus on customers.
From the start, the realignment was a natural fit, according to Thomas Hansen, Bosch's vice president of key accounts for the Americas. "There was a 15 or 18 percent natural crossover in the dealers anyway, and that number is growing, and part of that is the ease of doing business with us as a combined entity."
How Does That Sound?
The week before the Bosch group arrived at Cowboys Stadium, team owner Jerry Jones made his last payment on the outstanding debt for the $1.4 billion stadium, meaning he now owned it outright. Given the team's disappointing record for the year, that was quite a feat. But with their status as America's team, the Cowboys are always a fan favorite, and in addition to the hallowed ground for football games, Jones built the stadium as a tourist destination and event venue. All year round, stadium tours entertain thousands of people who want a glimpse of the famed space, and concerts and other sporting events keep it busy when the football team isn't in the house.
Before I went to Texas for my own tour, I knew that SCN's esteemed columnist and editorial contributor Ted Leamy of San Francisco-based Pro Media/UltraSound was also invited by Bosch to attend the event. Leamy, who is really quite modest even though Pro Media/UltraSound also wrapped up the other largest stadium install in the U.S. this year at The New Meadowlands, could probably safely say that he has walked every single inch of Cowboys Stadium hundreds of times, as he and his team basically lived there for two years while they installed the audio and data systems per WJHW's design spec.
Leamy and his Pro Media/UltraSound colleague Demitrius Palavos were kind enough to take me on a double-behind-the-scenes tour to show me some areas that were not included in the general tour. Immediately after I arrived, I found myself perched in the audio control room crows nest high above the sparkling field of this new stadium, which is in its second year of operation. Equipment in the adjacent video control room is duplicated in a second control room to produce mirror-image video, allowing fans on both sides of the massive seven-story center-hung scoreboard to see things from their perspective.
Wandering through the equipment closets, clubs, press room, locker rooms, and meeting spaces, I gathered more facts. They stats are enough to make you gasp: It's 350 feet up to the top of the ceiling, where the catwalks lead to six-ton line array clusters that look deceptively tiny so high up in the air. Some 5,000 loudspeakers were installed throughout the building. A 2,700-foot cabling run connects the field to the broadcast truck dock, while 3,500-foot runs go to the blimp chase, which had to be positioned a quarter of a mile away from the building in order to maintain line of site of its huge roof. In all, there is approximately four million feet of broadcast cable installed at Cowboys Stadium. The motorized hoist for the 150-foot-wide scoreboard weighs a quarter of a million tons.
More Than A Century Ago...
As more technology moves onto the IP backbone, Bosch sees itself as well positioned to help dealers in security and communications to expand their businesses in either direction via access to its products and network of dealers. "A lot of people are looking at how they can expand their businesses into different areas, and that's perfectly aligned with what we've been doing in our organization," Hockham pointed out. "There are communications people coming across security work and they want to know somebody they can trust to work with on a job. We're starting to see a lot more potential leverage coming from that, and we're trying to bring that together at this event to show the broad spectrum of what we as an organization can offer, both in terms of the technology and also in terms of the competence of our people."
As Bosch dealers from different sides of the industry mingled during the tours and presentations at Cowboys Stadium, executives noted that more than a few new business relationships were likely initiated. Hockham pointed to at least one instance where two dealers found that they're working on the same project from separate security and audio standpoints, and they were going to seek a way to streamline some of their wire pulling.
In terms of business, the 125-year-old, privately held Bosch corporation is estimated to have achieved more than 20% growth year over year in 2010 -- but that's the entire corporation, with products in kitchens and garages all over the world. The company is averse to borrowing capital, and actually had a lot of cash in its possession when the economy plummeted two years ago. This is partly due to the fact that 92 percent of Bosch shares are owned by a charitable trust established by Robert Bosch, with the remaining eight percent owned by the Bosch family. The company's management does not own shares, so profits go back into the business or to the charitable trust.
Speaking specifically about Bosch's business within the systems integration sector, Hockham reported, "A lot of the industry had a soft start at the beginning of 2010. There was a bit of a scare about going into a double-dip recession. But it's come back very strongly, and as the year has gone on, it's just gotten stronger and stronger."
A lot of it is about confidence, he added. Large corporations that restructured in 2009 are actually sitting on a lot of cash now, and it's all about whether they feel safe in investing that cash in projects. "We see signs of that happening," Hockham indicated. "Definitely the investment in major projects has come back."
Hansen added, "We just finished our quarterly reviews, and we saw a dimensional change in how many projects dealers had going and their enthusiasm," Hansen said. "They had taken a beating, but you could hear it in their voice, the excitement, and strong Q4s, which you don't see that too often in pro sound, because it tails off. People are excited. There's a lot coming."
Looking at the total U.S. economic picture, Daniel Gundlach, Bosch vice president of marketing for the Americas observed that the Federal Reserve's monthly economic climate data mirrors the company's own numbers. "If you look at it regionally in U.S., you see a significant difference between the west and the rest of the country," Gundlach said. "The west still remains, according to those indicators, rather depressed, maybe not down, but not significantly up. Some of those states have quite an impact on the nationwide economy. The other regions have had a stronger recovery, and you see that in the federal data and in the data of many companies."
In terms of potential for growth, Bosch is well positioned to make a dent in the mass notification market. Its Praesidio digital public address system is already the market leader in Europe and Asia, and with the product's recent introduction to the U.S. market, they're hoping to see similar results here, especially given the changing code requirements in mass notification and emergency communications.
"Everybody, including us, expects mass notification to become big business," Gundlach said. "If you could couple meaningfully a life safety system with a public address system that can also play music with great audio quality, you see great business opportunities. Here again comes the partnership with the audio integrator and the security integrator, because most likely very few audio integrators want to become a fire dealer. The same most likely applies to the other side."
Investment In The Future
In planning events such at the one at Cowboys Stadium, Bosch considers the needs of its dealers. And, in fact, they often extrapolate data about the state of the industry in doing so. "We were looking at our training statistics earlier in the year, and somewhat surprisingly during 2009, we actually trained more than we did in 2008, 2007," Hockham recalled. "But at the start of 2010 the amount of people that we trained started to tail off. As we talked with dealers, what was actually going on was that in 2009 they were a bit short of work, and rather than have their team sitting around and not doing much, they were investing in training, and now the business has picked back up and instead of releasing them to training they want to convert them into billable hours."
That said, Bosch will now bring a demonstration of its integrated technology offerings directly to its increasingly busy dealers. Bosch is building a traveling demonstration truck that will, according to Gundlach, "show from a technical perspective meaningful integration between public address and fire alarm, or critical communications systems and an intrusion system." The truck will travel to 70 locations throughout the U.S. next year at smaller regional road shows.
Before Bosch launches its next year of business, Hansen looked back over the previous year. Having been through mergers in the past, he was impressed with the smoothness of this transition: "When you think about it, in January, these 130 people didn't know each other. Now when you see how well we're working together, it's been a major success."