Experience is everything: the ever-evolving AV industry
Over the past couple of years or so, the AV industry has begun to think of itself in a new and different way. Ian McMurray looks at how it is evolving in line with changing perceptions.
Entitled. Narcissistic. Job hoppers. Mobile-addicted. Or alternatively: confident. Take care of themselves. Seekers of career satisfaction. Connected. Yes, we’re talking about millennials – aka Generation Y: those born between ~1980 and ~1995.
In fact, everyone is talking about millennials. Why? Well, it’s not least because they represent about a quarter of the world’s population (although Generation Z is catching up fast) having surpassed so-called baby boomers. When it comes to the workplace, it’s reckoned they form around 50% – rising to 75% within the next 10 years. That makes them a substantial demographic – something that’s of significant interest to advertisers and employers alike.
What’s perhaps caught the attention more than any of their other characteristics, however, is that millennials value experiences above almost anything – especially above ownership. There’s an extent to which, of course, that’s been forced on them. For many, owning their own homes will forever be unattainable – so rental is their only option. In increasingly crowded cities – the natural habitat of millennials – owning a car is impractical. Thank goodness for Uber, right?
Millennials would rather travel and enjoy life on a minute-by-minute basis. (And, of course, share their adventures – and especially their meals – via Instagram.) It was that that drove Airbnb to launch its ‘Experiences’ program a couple of years ago.
This year, the company reported that favourite experiences included horse yoga (taking over from goat yoga…); being mindful; wine tastings; feasting on pasta and pizza; tie-dying; and history.
We now have a new phrase: “the experience economy”. It was probably no surprise, then, when InfoComm rebranded itself as AVIXA – the Audio Visual Integrated Experience Association.
According to chief executive David Labuskes in a press release announcing the change: “AV experiences have become so ubiquitous, and they’ve come to include so many more technologies, and touch so many more personal and professional lives, that we felt compelled to embrace a new identity that more accurately reflects this industry’s excitement and welcomes a far more diverse community of professionals.”
AV, the organisation said, is all about delivering great experiences. A sentiment with which anyone who has watched projection mapping will certainly agree. Take Vivid Sydney, for example, which is said to be the largest light festival in the world. You couldn’t move without bumping into a projector or a media server.
Or Paartjima: A Festival in Light that took place in the Northern Territory earlier this year. Or Halo, a spectacular that saw Townsville in Queensland set against the ever-changing colour landscape of Castle Hill.
Those, if you like, could be called ‘experiences for experience’s sake’. But AVIXA’s is a much broader vision: AV can turn anything and everything into an
experience. An example: earlier this year, AVIXA was at Passenger Terminal Expo in London to give visitors “an in-depth look into the ways audio visual solutions can improve the travel experience” and how they can best “reimagine terminal spaces”. We’re not just talking about the usual wayfinding, arrivals/departures boards and retail digital signage, either. Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina, for example, features a 140’ display showing a ‘data sculpture’ that turns the airport’s invisible patterns of data into an art form. Now, even catching a plane can be an experience: airports can become almost destinations in their own right.
In the same way: AVIXA has thrown its weight behind the idea that going to a football match (or any other sporting occasion) can be a substantially enhanced experience with appropriately deployed AV technology. You only have to visit London’s newest stadium – White Hart Lane, the home of Tottenham Hotspur, which opened in April – to understand that AVIXA is absolutely right. Now, thanks to over 1,000 square feet of screens (among other things) you don’t just watch the Spurs game: you embark on the ‘fan journey’. (And, of course, you spend more time at the ground and buy more stuff …)
Which is all well and good. The problem, though, appears to be that delivering projection mapping extravaganzas and equipping airports and sports stadia only
accounts for a very small fraction of the AV marketplace. Add on theme parks, visitor attractions, museums – all prime candidates for delivering an experience
– and you’re still only covering a small part of what AV does. For most of the industry’s participants, life is somewhat more humdrum: videoconferencing suites and huddle rooms; boardrooms and conference rooms; classrooms and lecture theatres; digital signage and control rooms. None lends themselves readily to delivering the so-called ‘Wow!’ factor.
But: looked at another way, each of those ‘mundane’ applications is no less about creating experiences. I was talking to an integrator the other day, and was intrigued by what he said. “These days, the first question we’ll often ask is: ‘What do you want the user experience to be like?’” He expanded on the theme. In a classroom, what should the pupil experience be like? In a lecture theatre: what should the professor’s experience be like? In retail: what should the consumer’s experience be like?
That got me thinking, so I asked around. “When it comes to AV, what does a great user experience look like?” The first words on most people’s lips were that users should never be aware of the technology: they should only be aware of what it’s delivering, not how that’s being delivered. An example someone quoted me:
now that projectors are routinely available with appropriate lenses and lens shift, it makes no sense for the projector to be visible. Why not ceiling-mount it?
Make or break
Perhaps most compelling was the guy who said: “Creating a great experience with AV is just as important in a boardroom, a high street store or a university
lecture hall as it is at a theme park. In a corporate environment, for example, having the right AV equipment can make or break a meeting experience.”
It turns out, then, that we are indeed all in the business of creating experiences. You know that feeling when you use something that does exactly what it’s supposed to – it ‘just works’? That’s what’s at the heart of a great user experience. Yes, you may be compelled to dig deeper to find out how it does that – and you’ll often uncover some pretty clever design and engineering – but what really matters is what it does, not how it does it.
And that’s another thing about millennials. You might think, with their extensive use of technology, they’d be pretty tech-savvy. Reputedly, however, they’re not. They have no interest in technology per se – doubtless because it’s all they’ve ever known. So long as they can manage their Instagram accounts, they’re happy. They expect their working lives to feature the latest and greatest – but, like Twitter, they see it exclusively as a means to an end. Just like with horse yoga and wine tasting: the experience is everything. From that point of view, they’re no different to anyone else.