CEDIA Expo Truths: Attendance Flat, Show’s Dominated By DIY and It’s Arguably a Distributor Show Now

CEDIA Expo is the ultimate AV geekfest. Walking around CEDIA is like being an eight-year-old at Toys ‘R’ Us wishing you could have everything.

But like Toys ‘R’ Us, it’s on the verge of disappearing.

Let’s be honest here — the show has had flat attendance (right at 20,000, INCLUDING exhibitor personnel) for the past four years, Crestron pulled out saying it (CEDIA Expo) had lost its identity and some long-time exhibitors have recently either pulled out of the show (or gone bankrupt) or have opted for exhibiting via a distributor’s booth rather than their own.

Let’s me clarify — since I was asked to: CEDIA (the association) is totally separate and different from CEDIA Expo (the show). We did send a handful of reporters, at great expense to rAVe (no, we did not get paid nor did we make any money covering it) to CEDIA Expo last week in San Diego and shot over 350 videos LIVE on the show floor — all of our coverage is here. So, no one can accuse us of not supporting this show — we’ve been going almost since day one.

Don’t get me wrong, many attendees still love CEDIA and there will always be some 20,000 or so people that go. But the show isn’t growing. And, to be frank, it’s on the verge of constricting. Even before the show started, I’d heard from two large display companies that they would not have their own booths at the 2019 show — deciding to exhibit via their distributors instead — one mount company, three audio companies and two cable companies also told me they weren’t having their own booths in 2019.

What’s going on?

Well, Crestron President Randy Klein was right back in 2016 when I spoke to him at ISE — a few months after they announced they were pulling away from exhibiting — the show has lost its way. Is it a high-end residential AV show or is it a DIY (do-it-yourself) show? Currently, it’s trying to be both — but it can’t be. At the same time some attendees (and some manufacturers) are laughing-off upstarts like Brilliant Home Control for its new $299 DIY CEDIA 2018 launch which I highlighted on my LinkedIn feed during CEDIA (garnering over 5,000 views in four days), we have companies like super-high-end KEF offering up a $250,00 pair of speakers.

This can’t work together at the same time. If you disagree, stop reading and go ahead and keep attending — eventually there will be no more bathroom lines, no coffee lines, no wait for food and plenty of hotel rooms without an inflated show rate.

Case in point: The above mentioned $299 Brilliant control system post garnered comments such as, “At 299 how will a integrater play a role?” to “Nice segment, interesting and innovative product!” The $250,000 speakers from KEF drew comments like, “A speaker that’s worth as much as my house!” to “For that much money you could have a private live concert.” The perfect response to the KEF speakers was, “Remember, know your audience and the price the market will bear. KEF is not charging 250K because they don’t think they can get it.”

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Look there’s nothing wrong with a DIY show or a true, high-end residential show — but which one is CEDIA Expo? “Do we want CEDIA Expo to become a new, smaller, less-relevant CES” (an actual quote form an outgoing CEDIA board member) or do we want CEDIA to be what it was chartered to be — a show serving the residential custom integration community? Either is fine. But it must decide!

We can’t totally get away from the DIY market — all customers are going to want to have some sort of voice-control activated ecosystem in their homes like Alexa or Siri and it’s not going to come from someone in the CEDIA space. Let’s face it — the best of the voice-control stuff from high-end residential manufacturers is as good as Siri on her worst day — none of these companies have the AI development money that Google, Amazon or Apple have. So those products will be integrated or requested by the homeowner. But you can’t have it BE the control system and survive as an integrator of high-end homes.

But one of the keynoters from last year’s show was Sarah Zenz of Amazon. Why wasn’t it George Walter of RAYVAJim Carroll of Savant Systems or  Adam Levy of SnapAV? These are the ones innovating residential AV now. Not Amazon. (And yes, I know those are all men, and diversity in AV is a big issue. I proactively campaigned for Heather Sidorowicz when she ran for a CEDIA board spot last year, which she won. Right now we’re just talking about a different issue, which is whether CEDIA Expo is still for the custom install market.)

John Penney, the 2018 keynote speaker, of 20th Century Fox was a good “PR draw,” but come on, really? He headed up Starz, HBO and is about to launch a service that they claim will make streaming on your phone and tablet better and faster than at home. He’s not looking out for the best interest of the residential AV integrator either.

I realize adding this will likely piss off a few old-timers who will be defensive about how they “have a plan” for making sure the show is relevant. But, if 2017 and 2018 was part of the plan, you may want to consider a plan B. This average-at-best show is floundering.