The Future is Here, Part II

crewcall-lg-1015Last month, my column spoke about the changing role of the AV rental and staging company in the client’s technical universe. As I stated in the article, one of the things that I have always enjoyed about being in the rental industry was that we were a very early purveyor of new technologies. As such, we have been a major portion of the way our clients learned about and acquired these new technologies, and because of that have had opportunities to build long-standing relationships of trust with client accounts. I went on to question whether that idea can continue to be true, in a world where consumer technology is often first, and often gets to create the clients impression of how technology should function.

So I spoke to a number of people in the AV rental and staging industry, asking the question: How does the rental and staging company stay relevant to your clients in a time of increasingly rapid technological change, which borders on technological chaos at times?

What I found, somewhat surprisingly, was that the rental company that is managing a time of technological change well is becoming even more a technical resource to their clients, even if the technology is being driven from outside the normal professional audiovisual industry.

Probably the best answer I got to the question came from Ike Eckstein, president of Visual Word Systems in New York. I happened to catch him during the week of the United Nations Annual General Assembly in New York, and yet, over the din of a very busy rental shop, he managed to give me an answer that really made me think. Basically, Ike’s feeling is that the rental company has become even more of a technical resource to its clients in an age of overhyped consumer technology. His opinion is that the client acquires base technologies that inspire them to do larger things, but that those systems (those required for real shows) require technology that the client does not acquire for himself/herself. What those of us in the installation industry describe as “infrastructure product” (switching, format conversion, control systems, etc.), Ike describes using the colloquialism “gazintas.” He went on at some length, despite how busy he was, to talk about the fact that despite outside changes in technology, the rental company is (and always has been) the company that ties those technologies together for their clients. Ike, who (literally) often answers his phone with the phrase “save your a$$ AV,” has a point, and a lot of experience with this. While the client may really like his or her new Apple TV and the way it works, he or she will quickly discover that it is not a practical device for shows, and then turn to the rental company for the technology that really works for their requirements, giving the rental company yet another opportunity to “save their a$$,” educate them, and further cement a relationship. From a personal point of view, I have always enjoyed these situations, as “fireman” work tends to not have a lot of price competition.

As I look back at it, I realize that the question itself was probably not appropriate to the rental industry. At each stage in technical development, people have questioned the future of the rental and staging portion of the audiovisual industry. When camcorders became available, the naysayers said that everybody was now going to produce their own video. They were wrong. When videoconferencing became available, the naysayers said that videoconferencing was going to replace the in-person meeting. They were wrong. When computer and video projectors became portable and less expensive, and did not require a seasoned technician to converge them, everybody was going to buy their own projectors and bring them to shows. Once again, they were wrong.

The very nature of the rental industry says that we constantly experiment with new equipment and technologies. It says that the kind of people that we employ are the kind of people who deal well with change. This combination, combined with the constant exposure to the newest and technologies and a healthy degree of curiosity says that the audiovisual rental and staging company continues to go forward into the future, as the people who will “make it work” for clients.

But there is also an old phrase that tells you that you can identify the pioneers by the arrows in their backs. So, while the rental company will continue to be a company that must remain adventurous technically, next month we will examine some ideas on how you do that while avoiding being stung by technological failures.

So stay tuned.