The Zoom boom: Changing the AV industry forever?
The COVID-19 pandemic will, many say, change everything forever. Ian McMurray argues that that’s no less likely to be true for the AV industry.
Other than “when will the pubs reopen?” – we in the UK can only watch with mounting jealousy the TV news coverage of happy Australians quaffing pints – the big question on everyone’s lips here about the pandemic is: “How will it affect the AV industry?”
Well, perhaps not quite everyone’s… The last ever ISE in Amsterdam just about snuck in before things got bad but InfoComm wasn’t so lucky. IBC – the broadcast industry’s biggest European
show (and one where the crossover between broadcast and proAV has become increasingly apparent) didn’t make it either.
Over the past several months, AVIXA has been publishing regular reports – the AV Industry COVID-19 Impact Survey. Those reports make pretty grim reading, with slowing sales and declining revenues reported by many integrators. Furloughs have become commonplace, as have reductions in salary, and there have been inevitable redundancies, although these have, it seems, thankfully been fairly modest – at least, so far. AV companies, like every other, are being forced to re-evaluate and redesign how they work – both at their home base and on client sites – in a world of social distancing.
There are, however, bright spots. Leisure facilities such as hotels, restaurants and bars are in some cases taking the opportunity presented by their enforced closure to bring forward planned projects – but with a reduced workforce, integrators are finding those projects hard work.
And, inevitably, the picture is far from the same around the world. In the USA, for example, much depends on where each state is on its journey. One AVIXA survey respondent, for example, noted
that in Virginia, local government and schools were starting to revive projects that had been put on hold at the outset of the pandemic.
What fascinates me most, though, is that everything I’ve seen says that working from home will become, if not the new normal, then certainly far more prevalent than it’s historically been. It turns out we don’t need offices and meeting rooms like we thought we did.
Working from home is an attractive proposition all round: for employers, it’s an opportunity to reduce overheads – while for employees, it can improve quality of life and save money. And then, of course, there’s the reduced environmental impact when commuting is eliminated. It’s no surprise that Twitter has told its people they need never return to the office.
How we work has long been central, it seems to me, to large parts of the AV industry. Take, for example, the inexorable rise of the huddle room over the past few years. Depending on who you believe – Research and Markets or Wainhouse Research – there are 33 million or 50 million huddle rooms around the world.
According to Business Insider, huddle rooms are (were?) a market forecast to grow at almost 30% per year over the coming years, reaching a size of US$1.5 billion by 2023. But, in the new normal,
how viable is that prediction?
I doubt I was alone in not having heard of Zoom until a few months ago. Of course, I was very familiar with Lifesize, Polycom, Cisco, Microsoft Teams, WebEx, Google Hangouts and Skype for example. But Zoom? Suddenly, it seems everyone is using it – to stay in touch with friends and family, for virtual happy hours and a thousand other creative uses, such as weddings. It’s become the app of choice for personal social interaction – even the Queen is reputedly a user – helped, of course, by the fact that there’s a free version.
According to Zoom, daily users spiked to 200 million in March – up from 10 million in December. Zoom’s founder is now allegedly worth US$2 billion more than he was last year.
What Zoom has done is to make hundreds of millions of people who had previously had little or no exposure to the idea of cloud-based conferencing aware of the fact that it’s perfectly possible
to interact, to collaborate, to have productive meetings – and not all be in the same room.
The point here isn’t that Zoom will put the likes of Polycom and Lifesize out of business: they’re trusted, enterprise-grade systems, and here for the long term. The point is that Zoom has
made non face-to-face interaction the norm. For a major paradigm shift like working from home to occur, that kind of familiarity with a different way of working (which was, of course, perfectly possible before) has to be in place, and it is.
Conferencing and collaboration have long been mainstays of the AV industry – and that looks unlikely to change. What will change is how those solutions are delivered – and that’s the challenge for manufacturers and integrators alike. Exactly how will they change? What will replace room-based solutions if there are no, or a dwindling number of, rooms?
A slowdown in business provides some opportunities. One of those is the opportunity to take on board training that was perhaps rarely given the focus it deserved in a busy business environment. But what to train on? That leads to the second opportunity – the opportunity for integrator management to sit down and think hard about where their business might be in a year’s time, and in five years’ time?
For those in the UCC market, that will be a key initiative, and perhaps also for those in the smart building market: will our reduced reliance on office space mean that growth in that space levels off?
For integrators in other markets, though, there is perhaps less to be concerned about, post-pandemic (although strategic planning is, of course, an imperative for any business).
The need for digital signage won’t go away: the forecast that it will continue to grow, and that it will become the most significant market, still looks good (although it will be interesting to see how
consumer spend in bricks and mortar retail rebounds).
Education will continue to become increasingly reliant on what the AV industry has to offer (and perhaps even more so if the short term trend to replace face-to-face learning with distance learning becomes a long term trend). Live events will, eventually, bounce back. (According to AVIXA, live events was, by far, the market sector most affected by Coronavirus, with 88% of the integrators focusing on this market had been, unsurprisingly, reporting that they had been negatively impacted). Command/control centres will continue to be built and upgraded.
On the other hand, if we’re no longer gathering together in rooms like we used to, what happens to the presentation industry? Will the new way of working sound the death knell for all but high
brightness projectors used for rental/staging applications?
All about timing
In all of those cases – digital signage, education, live events, command/control and the other segments that make up the AV industry – it is, inevitably, all about timing: when will projects start to come on-stream again? A key question will, of course, be the extent to which end users will be able to afford those projects, given that few will not have suffered major financial hardship. The good news there is that investing in AV technology has moved from ‘nice to have’ to a strategic business imperative.
The only certainty in all of this is that, while the industry will undoubtedly continue its growth, it will do so from a lower level than AVIXA was forecasting when the organisation projected a rise in
revenues from US$247 billion in 2019 to more than US$325 billion in 2024.
It will continue to grow because manufacturers and integrators have historically proven themselves to be remarkably adept at reinventing themselves in response to changes in how business operates.
That they will continue to do so, unlike when pubs will reopen in the UK, is a certainty.