Should InfoComm and CEDIA Merge?

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In my recent writing and speaking, I have discussed the convergence of the HomeAV and ProAV markets and how close they are moving to mirror each other. Now, let’s take a look at the two major industry associations (and their tradeshows) and how they may evolve over the next few years.cedia_logo-0310

In case you’ve been living under a rock, InfoComm is THE ProAV association leading industry education initiatives, managing an annual tradeshow for manufacturers to show off their wares and providing a community portal for the trade and the end users to connect to work on AV projects together.

CEDIA is the InfoComm of the HomeAV market. It started as a trade association to help high-end consumer electronics integrators differentiate themselves from the big-box retailers and a host of other industry issues. In addition, they launched a table-top show some twenty years ago that has morphed into a giant AV fair of home theater, home automation and whole house AV gear.

And, while each of their markets have been on a convergence path — we use HomeAV gear in commercial installs and they regularly use ProAV gear in residential installs — both CEDIA and InfoComm continue to stand alone, barely working together. At least in North America that is.

In Europe, they’ve all but merged their tradeshows by holding an annual mega-show called ISE – Integrated Systems Europe. It is BOTH a ProAV and a HomeAV version of InfoComm held in Amsterdam.

But we’ve barely seen any collaboration here in North America. They’ve had joint classes and a few joint market receptions, plus officials have attended the other’s show, but not much else.

But the market’s not waiting for the convergence to occur. Things have happened — changes have occurred on the tradeshow and association front, for example, to be sure. Remember NSCA? NSCA’s expo, once the 2nd largest ProAV industry tradeshow, disappeared. NSCA, the association, opted to focus on education and certification and handed over the tradeshow reigns officially over to InfoComm, and now NSCA’s part of their giant annual trek.

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And now there’s a new show called DSE — the Digital Signage Expo — that’s all of a sudden become the hottest new show around, emerging along with the fastest growing segment of the AV market overall — the digital signage market. It’s interesting to watch. In fact, the HomeAV channel has actually installed more digital signage in the last sixteen months than the ProAV channel. Hmm… More on that in a future column.

And, while we’re still in a recession, both CEDIA and InfoComm seem to be flourishing independently — even while each other’s members are cutting back, laying off and even merging home and commercial sales teams and marketing efforts.

So, again, why not merge these shows into one giant Mega-AV-Expo?

Some say money. Both associations derive a significant portion of their revenue from the shows, charging for everything from booth space to sponsorship banners. But the truth is, this money, for the most part, ends up driving the educational departments of both associations — and it’s not like they’re paying exorbitant salaries over there.

Some say egos. Well, personally, I know both Randy Lemke of InfoComm and Utz Baldwin of CEDIA — and I can tell you that these two men, at the top of their respective associations, don’t have the sort of egos that would prevent a merger of the associations if it was in the best interest of their members. So, not true.

Some say the manufacturers want separate shows. Wrong — in many cases, the tradeshow budgets are the biggest part of a manufacturers’ expenses. Think Crestron parties and giant booths — can you imagine what that must cost them?

Some say it’s the technology. It’s just different integrating HomeAV technology versus ProAV systems. Well, that’s still true in some cases, but not all. In fact, the many HomeAV integrators have been kept afloat during this tough recession doing small to mid-sized ProAV installs such as meeting rooms, training rooms and even boardrooms. Heck, we all put in consumer gear in ProAV installs AND ProAV gear in homes (think Extron component video DAs and HDMI switchers).

However, I think it’s come down to one thing. Why fix it if it ain’t broke? If each association can successfully support their members separately and can still maintain a track record of getting manufacturers in both markets to pony up the big dollars to exhibit at both shows each year, why bother? Personally, I think it’s easier having separate shows as a member of the press. For example, Summer is InfoComm-time and Fall is CEDIA-season.

Certainly some things could be easier if CEDIA and InfoComm collaborated or pooled resources, such as with GreenAV and other standards, education and certification, legislation issues, and marketing for consumer/end user recognition of standards and certification. All these things are complicated, and in many cases, require money or resources that one association might not have by itself. We’ll be watching closely to see to see how their relationship develops in the future.