Published in November 2005

The Next Big Thing…
By Gary Kayye, CTS

It has changed each decade. What’s next?

     What is the Next Big Thing?
• In the 1950s, it was slides.
• The 1960s, the portable film projector.
• The 1970s, the VCR and videotape.
• The 1980s, presentation gear and the beginning of the projector era.
• The 1990s brought growth with the digital LCD and DLP projector.
     Each of these decades saw huge growth in the world of the AV integrator—or at least the ones smart enough to recognize the next big thing.
     But, what is it now? The projector has quickly lost its luster in the AV market with the dealers and distributors because they are a “dime a dozen,” quoting the president of a major commercial AV dealer in Southern California who sells more than $5 million worth of them each year.
     And, basically, he’s right. There are minute differences between one projector brand and another; mostly the leadership roles belong to service-oriented or price-oriented manufacturers. But, either way, the margins on projectors are, in fact, slimmer than they ever have been. And, with Dell taking a leadership role in selling them, margins are sure to get squeezed even more. Not to mention what HP, InFocus and Epson are doing.
     Yet, many dealers keep chasing the perfect projector sale. The sale that’s huge, the one that outfits the entire University of Florida with projectors in every room. That Coca-Cola deal that brings projection technology to every meeting room, even two-person rooms. And, that deal that outfits every Pfizer rep with traveling, mini-projectors. But, as we all know, many of these big deals are turning to the internet.
     And, is the projector really the thing anymore?
     I don’t think so. I think it’s collaborative meetings. I realize that’s not as easy to sell (or even say) as a projector and a screen. But, remember back when AMX and Crestron were blazing a trail into the commercial AV market with remote-control systems that looked a lot like a garage-door opener? Remember when they came out with the first keypad or the first touchpanel?
     I think that selling collaborative meeting technology is a lot like selling a control system. Everyone knows that the projector’s remote can control all functions required of the projector, and some can even advance slides in a PowerPoint presentation. Every room already comes equipped with a light switch. We can add an Up/Down switch for a screen and mount that on the wall. And, we can have the audio gear, VCRs and DVD players on the table in the room and simply use the front-panel controls of each of them to run our presentation. We don’t need a control system, right?
     Well, we all know what the outcome of that solution was/is. AMX, Crestron, Extron and the other control system manufacturers sell a half-billion dollars in AV gear a year.
     And, I see collaborative meeting technology that way, too. Sure, you can simply put a talking-head VTC system in a room, or you can connect the rooms via true electronic collaboration. all SMART, PolyVision, Polycom, Tandberg all have collaborative systems. Heck, even WebEx has a service to do “document collaboration.”
     But, the next generation of this stuff is the Next Big Thing.
     We’re at the dawn of a new era. True collaborative meeting technology is about to really take shape and enter the commercial AV world. A company such as PolyVision and its Thunder product is one example. I am sure SMART’s right behind with its own collaborative meeting room system. And, Polycom can’t be far behind. So, watch this market category carefully and arm yourself with the knowledge it takes, because it’s truly a convergence product requiring knowledge in AV, IT and the telecom worlds.
     I realize that collaborative meeting technology isn’t as tangible as selling a projector because it requires connecting multiple sites together, interfacing lots of AV gear into a single solution and communicating with the IT guys to convince them that sticking this AV gear on their network is “OK” to do. But, I love the fact that, with Thunder, for example, you also have to install at least a half-dozen projectors in the room, too.
     Anyone out there know of a good projector integrator?


Gary Kayye, a member of Sound & Communications’ Technical Council, is principal of Kayye Consulting. He was the ICIA’s 2003 Educator of the Year. Send comments to him at gkayye@testa.com.

 

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