Thursday, April 18, 2013

From VHS to MPG - and Other Ways the AV Industry Has Changed

On the 57th anniversary of the VCR, YouTube unveiled the "VHS" mode for one day to allow people to "relive the magic and feel of vintage video tapes."

Well, I don't know whether I would call VHS video magical, but there was a day when it was revolutionary. Today, however, I can't sit through a few minutes of a VHS movie.

A prehistoric relic. Image courtesy of anankkml

This got me thinking back to a question I asked in Linkedin Group a few weeks ago. I posed a question to a group of AV veterans asking: "What's the biggest difference between today’s AV industry and the industry we worked in 10 years ago?"

The audiovisual (AV) industry is a tough business to be in today. There are more competitors for AV rentals than ever before and the technology isn’t just moving forward, it’s leaping forward. Those in the trenches know that if you’re not sprinting to the cutting edge with it you’re falling behind.

I thought I’d hear a lot of technology references – and there were certainly plenty of those. But what struck me most was how much the conversation turned to the macro-level changes in the sector and what that means for service and the reputation of those of us that call ourselves professionals.

The AV Technology Revolution:  Beyond Pretty Pictures

It’s amazing what we can provide for people today with a fraction of the transportation needs. A box full of tiny iPads or tablets can hold more information - presented in a more compelling fashion – than stacks of folders, binders, and reports held a decade ago.

One fellow pro pointed to the evolution of the digital audio console, which eliminates the need for a half truck-full of racks we used to haul to a show.

At Rentfusion video walls and screens are some of our biggest movers. Flat-screen technology makes them affordable for so many more businesses to display their products, and for us in it means less back-breaking work hauling equipment and more flexibility with delivery.

There may be some measure of nostalgia for the tech we grew up on, but when it comes to professional displays, we’re not missing the cumbersome old tech. As one commenter responded talking about the old 35 mm slide projectors, “Good riddance to all of it.”

But much more of the conversation settled in on the larger business changes.

Last week guest writer Eric Byrd talked about the growing convergence of Information Technology (IT) and AV. IT knowledge is now nearly essential for AV pros in a world where everything must be networked.

It’s an important part of the changes in the trade show, convention, and meetings industry, but that’s a conversation all it’s own.

The Big Picture in AV Changes

Andy Soltesz, the owner of ColossoVision in Calgary, Canada, keyed in on the difference between equipment brokers and AV houses full of tech geeks who truly know the equipment and take pride in what we do.

“In the past, many AV companies owned the products they promoted and sold,” Soltesz wrote. "Today many AV companies have become brokers for products and services offered by others.”

Those ownership companies were more focused, he wrote, but today the large brokers want to be 'everything for everyone,' with deteriorating levels of service.

"The companies that invest in the equipment end up working with nothing more than brokers who have no vested interest in the product other than money," he wrote.

Rick Lawall, owner of Lawall Communications in New York, called for a responsible mix. His company is able to adjust to the rapid changes in the industry by carrying a smaller inventory and partnering with other companies to fill the gaps.

“This makes us quicker and more competitive,” he said. “I’m not sure large, equipment rich, heavily capitalized companies are the only way to be a responsible, responsive A/V company.”

But what did Soltesz mean by his “everything for everyone” comment?

Those companies, he said, “don’t invest in training, knowledge or resources.” When those companies call him for gear he said the calls turn into training sessions.

We’ve seen the same here at Rentfusion, and for true pros who love this work and take pride in our knowledge and service, it’s frustrating to see the trust in the marketplace eroded by outfits like those Soltesz refered to.

But I digress. Needless to say, I got a lot more out of this seemingly simple questions than I bargained for.

If you’d like to add your voice to the conversation, connect with me on Linkedin and I’ll share the link. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

John Dubielak Rentfusion
John Dubielak is the Vice President of Operations for Rentfusion, which offers AV rentals, computer rentals, and all manner of equipment for meeting planners, tradeshows, convention hosts, exhibitors and event planners nationwide. Follow Rentfusion on Twitter at @rentfusion and on Linkedin.