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How COVID-19 has changed the AV industry

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What new trends popped up in the AV and digital signage industries during the COVID-19 pandemic and what will the future bring? Those were the key themes during two thought leadership panels at the Sony AV Expo.

by Kevin Damask

What new trends popped up in the AV and digital signage industries during the COVID-19 pandemic and what will the future bring?

Those were the key themes during two thought leadership panels at the Sony AV Expo July 27-28, held both in-person and virtually.

The panels, hosted by Rich Ventura, VP of B2B for Sony Electronics Professional Solutions Americas, featured leaders and executives from the AV and digital signage communication industries.

“The experience of having to use technology has become the norm, whereas previously, a year and a half, two years ago, it was more of an exception to the rule. It was something people put up with because they had to,” said Randy Tritz, partner and branch manager at Shen, Milsom & Wilke, a technology design and consulting firm. “Now that we’ve all had to do that, we’re finding out we actually can use it and it actually does work. It gets us where we need to go. But we’re making some adjustments in terms of how we use technology and that’s the biggest thing we’re seeing.”

Since the pandemic forced many employees to work from home, communication technology has become “much more user-experiential,” according to Tritz. Users have discovered different ways to utilize the platforms and have adapted to them, instead of only relying on them when necessary.

Joey D’Angelo, president, Joseph D’Angelo and Associates, also a consulting firm, said communication platforms that were barely heard of two years ago have become an essential aspect of business.

“One of the things I’m actually fearful of is platform overload,” D’Angelo said. “It’s starting to get to be too much. We’re seeing the development of all these software platforms that enhance collaboration and communication and everybody uses a different one. We are heading to a critical mass of software and hardware and everybody has certain preferences. I think everybody in the AV industry can make them work just great, but it’s more about a big-picture thing I’m worried about.”

Ventura said the same concept occurred in digital signage several years ago. Many companies introduced new products hoping for the latest “breakthrough” in display technology, saturating the market. In recent years, however, businesses have consolidated.

“With collaboration software, the pandemic just put it into hyper-drive,” Josh Starkey, director of engineering and programming, SKC Communications, said. “I speak to people daily who’ve traditionally met in person and maybe were all in the same campus and booked a meeting room. Zoom and Microsoft have really been pushing each other to add features rapidly and they’re just catching up to each other.

“Ultimately, the end-users are the ones benefiting from the features and the result is a better, more natural meeting. As integrators, we not only have the experience within our own organizations, but we have the experience with each of our customers. That gives us a unique experience we can share with everybody else.”

While AV leaders want to constantly tweak and improve their products, in the virtual meeting software world, Keith Yandell, AV practice manager at AVI Systems, believes two aspects remain the most vital: seeing the person and hearing them clearly.

“You spend time-fighting to get platforms A, B and C to work and you just end up going with the one that functions the best,” Yandell said.

With more businesses using virtual meeting software, corporate IT managers have had to scramble to get to know these platforms. The cloud has made storing and sharing programs easier, but how will it adapt to the plethora of virtual communication platforms hitting the market? Ventura said an AV vs. IT battle could be brewing.

“I would like to see the AV industry just make everything IoT and get them all on the wi-fi,” D’Angelo said. “Wi-fi is reliable enough. I’ve got 197 devices on my network at home and they never drop off and these are consumer devices. I think corporate IT, educational (leaders) and all these really smart people can handle that. The AV industry is not there yet, but please, projectors, displays, anything we can make wireless would be really great because it would help the AV industry absorb and be more effective in the IT world because they can be monitored.”

Workplace the new meeting place
Since the pandemic drove many employees to work from home, companies have made crucial decisions on how to use office space. This has led to some businesses only opening up part of their offices for special in-person meetings.

“The workplace is the new meeting place,” Yandell said. “While a good portion of their workforce can work from home, there are times when they do need to collaborate face-to-face. You’re going to see an uptick in remote booking systems, office reservations for temporary workspaces, but you’re also going to see a big influx in experience centres. You’re going to need a venue that can capture that so it must do much more than we can achieve in an online meeting.”

In education, Starkey has seen school districts use federal grant money on AV upgrades. He thinks video-enabled learning will continue to grow.

“I’ve seen now where Google is getting into the virtual meeting space because kids have been raised using Google Classroom (software),” Yandell said. “They are already comfortable with it so why use something else?”

While all the Day 1 panellists believe a hybrid of in-person and virtual collaboration will push the AV industry to adjust, D’Angelo joked there is one virtual meeting characteristic he would like to see vanish.

“Is there any way we can get rid of the ‘Brady Bunch’ conferences?” he said.

AI possibilities on the horizon
The Day 2 panel focused somewhat more on digital signage, emphasizing how AI technology has become more integrated into AV systems.

“Advertisers are realizing how AI can drive and boost sales,” said Joyce Caradonna, CEO of Sightcorp, a computer software company based in Amsterdam.

Tim Albright, CMO at Conference Technologies, an AV/IT provider, said an important question to consider is how AV-driven ad content will become better integrated with AI technology?

The panel said supermarkets, one of the few industries open through most of the pandemic, has leveraged AI to gauge customer behavior.

“The grocery market, because they did stay open and were selling product, has some capital (money) to burn,” Albright said. “Not like ‘funny money,’ but they do have some resources to use on advertising.”

Tim Boot, director of Global Marketing at Meyer Sound, said live events, such as sports and concerts, were starting to return with fans, prompting more ideas to engage audiences.

“Another area I’m seeing spend more (on AV) is the house of worship market,” Boot said. “Because they never really totally shut down.”

Kevin Damask is the editor of Digital Signage Today. He has more than 15 years of journalism experience, having covered local news for a variety of print and online publications.

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