Is Runco Relevant?

As we quickly head towards another CEDIA Expo, it’s a time to reflect where we’ve been and where we’re, hopefully, headed.  We’ve had a very tough year – in fact, it’s being called by most CI’s the worst HomeAV economy ever.  Expo 2008 was really the beginning of this economic downturn as we headed into a contentious, divisive presidential election and saw the US government bailing out many major players in markets we’d have never thought we would see the government meddle in.

But, even as the economy started to turn last September, many of us were touting the emergence of the “Staycation” where homeowners would, instead of spending money of a lavish vacation with the family this year, they would put the money into upgrading their home – thus, we, being the AV portion of the renovation budget, would benefit.  Wrong.

If people are taking Staycations, they’re doing them with Netflix and their living room TV.  Every major consumer electronics outlet has seen a sales decline and the high-end HomeAV market has, at best, been flat in some areas of the world and even declined as much as 30 percent in others.

But, heading into CEDIA 2009, I am bullish on us.  I think this will be a show where we won’t be touting Staycations or any other gimmick like that.  But, at the same time, we won’t see a resurgence of a bunch of money being spent on dedicated AV rooms like home theaters either.  However, there is money to be made.

Where?  Well, it’s NOT in projection or display technology.  Just drop that thought from your head.  There was a time where we could get away with 20, 30 and even 40 percent margins on display technology – not any more.  Runco, the brand of choice for many years, is no longer going to see the lion’s share of the market.

Who will?

Samsung, Sharp, Sony and LG – oh, and don’t forget Vizio.  The LCD is as close to a commodity as it’s ever been and display technology in general is far from unique.  There are, literally, a handful of manufacturers making all 40-some brands of display products now – we have rebadged the heck out of it all – and customers see through that.  They walk the aisles of Sam’s Club and see Sony, Sharp, Panasonic and 23 other brands that, at the same time, will be exhibiting at CEDIA too.  How can you sell against that?

Sam Runco could.  He had mastered the art of selling-up like no one I’ve ever met.

But, those days are gone.  Even Sam (sorry Runco) can’t pull off a miracle.  It’s all about content now and all the projector does is show content – and all of them do a dang good job now!  In fact, the screen used to show the content is actually more important to image quality now than the display itself – bet you’d never see those days, huh?  Don’t believe me, make sure you see Da-Lite’s Affinity screen demo at CEDIA.  You will be a believer then.

Look, I love Runco. I used to have one myself and showed it off to every neighbor who ever came over.  But, now I have a SonyVPL-something in my ceiling and it turns on every time I want to use it, it looks awesome, it never breaks down and it does 1080p natively like nothing I’ve ever seen.

You think anyone’s got anything better?  Unlikely – in fact, this same projector’s technology is available in about ten different brand names.

Good luck with that argument.

Content will dominate CEDIA 2009.

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