Integration Is What You Do — Not What Apple, Google and Amazon Do

gorilla-smartphone-0816CEDIA CEO Vin Bruno recently told a group of residential integrators that his organization wants to help the AV integration community transition away from using the term “integrator” and move towards using the term “technologist.”

While I applaud CEDIA for proactively moving towards helping the integration community as a whole — something they clearly haven’t done in a half-dozen or so years — this isn’t the way to do it.

Yes, it’s admirable that Vin is attempting to help hone-in on what helps an end-user find an integrator for their smart homes or home entertainment systems, but this isn’t the time to focus on that. CEDIA should be focusing on how to help the INTEGRATOR community fend-off the deluge of stolen business thanks to the likes of Apple, Google, Best Buy, Amazon, etc. It’s only going to get worse as the Echo and Alexa (as well as Siri, apparently, with Apple’s new HOME app) take away some of the magic from companies like URC, Control4, Xantech, Savant, etc.

There isn’t a single integration firm I’ve spoken to in the past year that isn’t feeling the effects of one or more of those companies. And, the manufacturers are too — some of CEDIA’s largest exhibitors have told me that they have slowed R&D spending while waiting to see what Apple and Google’s strategies are.

The very high-end of the market is thriving, the low-end is gone (and good riddance), but the middle of the market is isn’t sure what to do. Changing the branding or, in this case, the most recognizable term that actually describes what a HomeAV integration firm does, isn’t the solution to the slowed growth.

CEDIA should focus on building bridges. Why isn’t Apple at CEDIA? Why isn’t Google there? Do we pretend they don’t exist and don’t affect us? Do we hope that they don’t?

Recent trends that are liable to be devastating to HomeAV include:

  • 30-somethings (and younger) don’t watch TV on giant screens — they do it on tablets, phones and regular TVs that have content streamed via $99 set-top boxes on 9-watt speakers. And, even scarier (or you should at least note), Pokémon GO is teaching adults that small screens aren’t just for second screening TV — that primary content is OK being viewed there — so this “trend” may not be relegated to 30-somethings for long.
  • Cable TV use, satellite TV use and music listening are all in decline. Streaming is up but traditional, system-based technologies, are heading down — and this isn’t a trend.
  • Voice-based and gesture-based control are on the emerging horizon and they aren’t being driven by the likes of the big control system companies — they’re being pioneered and closely controlled (and managed) by Facebook, Apple, Google and Amazon (and now Microsoft). This is all under the mantra of simplification.
  • Only one TV company in the world was profitable last year.
  • Two the the top-five whole house audio companies saw greater than 20 percent declines for the second year in a row.
  • The average price of a 2-meter HDMI cable is $11.36
  • Crestron pulled out of CEDIA Expo. This matters. Don’t kid yourself to think that other manufacturers aren’t considering it. In the past two weeks, two of CEDIA’s 20 largest exhibitors told me this could be their last show on the floor (although, they wanted to make it clear to me they still support the organization). I will write more on this later this fall.

Do NOT assume (by reading this) that I am down on the HomeAV market as I am not. In fact, I see 4K as a guarantee that 2017 will be a hell of a lot better year for the HomeAV community than 2016. 4K is complicated, doesn’t work with nearly ANY of the infrastructure installed today and takes a very-detailed integrator (not a technologist) to specify and build a system properly. So, you’ll make a fortune selling and INTEGRATING (not technologisting) 4K systems.

However, I don’t believe that marketing-speak will fix a much bigger issue. Let’s not pretend the 800-pound gorilla isn’t in the room. Calling him a monkey instead of a gorilla won’t make him less likely to kill you.