Another Look at Booth Babes and InfoComm14

Stem numbers_33-percentThis admittedly took me a little longer to get around to writing. Most of what I write is stream of consciousness, so it takes little time and effort to crack my brain open like an egg and spill it onto the keyboard. This post however required a little more thought, reflection, and some research, and as Brock McGinnis was quick to point out on Twitter, “Mark. You’re not a journalist. You blog”, so this one took longer.

If you want some great reading from others on the booth babe issue, I’d point you to Jennifer Willard of Women in AV’s blog after CES, Leonard Suskin’s latest piece, or Penny Sitler’s Reflections on Infocomm.

All of these are great and draw attention to the glaring fact that as an industry we have done a poor job of holding companies accountable when they perpetuate the Good Ol’ Boy culture and marginalize the women in our industry.

Let me start by saying that it doesn’t help that we hold InfoComm in Las Vegas. I have always said I could never raise my daughters in that city. When you walk down streets littered with playing cards printed with naked women to check into your hotel with a larger than life advertisement for the featured show also printed with semi-clad females, and then have a drink in the bar where women of the night start approaching the drunken and newly rich middle aged masses, it’s hard to contemplate women feeling equal or valuable there.

I know Vegas has a great Convention Center, and many are drawn to Las Vegas for the very reasons I stated above, so that won’t change anytime soon. However, once inside the InfoComm show you think we as an industry may be able to control things somewhat.

Crestron garnered a little attention on this subject using provocatively dressed cowgirls to round up the herd for their party. Although they can’t get a complete pass on that, I would say to their credit they do not use this tactic in their booth. They let technology be the star there. You are going to see worse on the streets of Vegas on the bus ride to the party anyway, so Crestron just started that experience a little early.

Leonard’s piece above specifically mentioned Key Digital and PureLink as offenders this year on the floor. Key Digital didn’t surprise me one bit, as they have consistently played near softcore pornography on their screens at the show, and I mentioned them last year myself as someone who definitely crossed the line and even made me uncomfortable standing in their booth. I’m not a prude and I also have a soft spot for beautiful women as well, as evidenced by my love for my wife and 2 daughters, but there is definitely a line that can be crossed and they have done it repeatedly.

Pure Link however did surprise me a little bit. I used to talk to Bob Rapoport, Pure Link’s former sales and marketing man, quite frequently and they always had a great story to tell. Back when Crestron was still essentially Beta testing DM on their first few customers, Pure Link was quietly managing HD extension, switching, and HDCP content out in the real world in places like the Apple stores, where as you know, failure was not an option. By a stroke of luck or genius, (or both), Pure Link had turned a potentially bad run-in with HDMI into a unique advantage in product development. They turned that advantage into solid extension of HD material over copper as well as into extension over fiber with direct HDMI terminations instead of clunky extender boxes and extra power supplies. They included EDID emulation in the memory of their extenders to eliminate conflicts and handshake issues. They were even doing 128×128 switching of HDMI well before Crestorn extended beyond their 32×32 chassis, which gave them an advantage in things like video switching on aircraft carriers where again, failure is not an option.

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So what happened? The rest of the world caught up.

All of a sudden, with HDBaseT, HD extension over copper became a much more reliable venture. HDBaseT sprouted up all over the place and of course Pure Link introduced an HDBaseT piece…too. And therein lies the problem, that one word: “Too”. Because Pure Link had done their work quietly, they developed a loyal but smaller following. It’s hard to hear the smaller guy yelling “Me Too” across the InfoComm floor especially when competing against Crestron, AMX, Atlona, Wyrestorm, Kanex, FSR, Monoprice, Hall Research, Intellix, Cables To Go, Magenta, Gefen and the list continues. Even FSR, a traditional architectural storage box manufacturer had a fiber HDMI extender with direct termination in 2013.

I don’t think Bob would have ever let Pure Link go this route, but when faced with a decreased market advantage and the lack of a unique selling proposition, girls in Daisy Dukes and halter tops win out I guess.

So we hear the voices calling for change saying this can all stop if we just want it to. But does this all go deeper? Is it really that easy or is it rooted so deep that it may take more than a decision to stop?

Vaddio has been mentioned many times as a company with some great women who doesn’t sink to the level of using them inappropriately in the booth. I am fond of their crew, and know most of them either through Twitter or in person. Hailey, Stacy, Bernie, Rachel, and formerly Kelly, are all extremely bright and intelligent and would be an asset to any AV company. In fact, Kelly is now at an SCN Top 5 Integrator, AVI Systems. Even Vaddio though released an ad last year around InfoComm, saying that their cameras didn’t have X-Ray vision…yet and flanked the ad with silhouettes of busty posing females. (I couldn’t find a pic of the ad, a fact that I’m sure Vaddio is happy about as I heard they may have had second thoughts on releasing it after the fact). Sure it was tame, but even the female driven marketing team decided to play to what they perceive to be their audience.

This illustrates that just adding amazing women to the industry won’t solve the problem. There’s a much stronger legacy at work here.

If you haven’t seen it, there is a great Facebook campaign and video out there right now called “Rewrite the Rules” that addresses gender issues and perceptions on a larger scale. I’ll tell you as a dad, I teared up a little watching it. It’s worth 4 minutes of your time.

I think these gender identity issues run deep. Google is pushing tens of millions into women in STEM causes and Cisco’s Patrick Finn tours the country talking about women in STEM as well. There are some large voices helping lead the way. Even the White House is in on the act. We need to do our part too.

Maybe we need to start isolating those who decide to sell their wares with “Sex instead of Techs”. Maybe we should out those who decide that the workplace is a great place to use their authority to say things to a woman he would never say in a dark alley with her 6’5″ 220 lb brother listening. Maybe we should stop buying their products or taking their advertising dollars as well.

I’m glad there has been another year of articles discussing this, but there have been for a few years, and unless we get a little more serious as an industry and do more than writing about it once a year, it will be a long road to success.

Just my take.