Audio, Business, Video

AVIXA POV: Venues In A Socially Distant World

AVIXA

Commercial AV helps enable virtual engagement.

I am an avid football fan (both American and European style) and a regular attendee of concerts, theatrical productions, museums and amusement parks, but getting back to those activities seems like a world away. After all, they usually involve crowds who, yes, can be overzealous, but who also help us feel like we’re part of something bigger. Watching spectator-less sports events or concerts on Zoom can help feed our craving, but, much like a snack versus a sit-down meal, these virtual events leave something to be desired.

Venues and the events they house have borne the brunt of the challenges that the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has created. Pandemic-related shutdowns have been an inconvenience to my entertainment tastes, but they have drained the lifeblood from these crucial parts of our economy. As a result, the pandemic has also cut a chunk out of the commercial AV industry, whose mission is to help bring the experiences showcased in venues to life. Allow me to spell it out from the lens of the market data I’m seeing here at AVIXA.

In 2019, venues and events—this category includes stadiums, theaters, auditoriums, concert halls, outdoor pavilions, theme parks, museums and even houses of worship (HoWs), among other facilities—represented the third-largest market for commercial AV products and services globally, generating $32.8 billion in revenues. The bottom fell out this year, as the pandemic caused all large-scale facilities to close and events to be canceled; this cut the associated commercial AV revenues by almost 15 percent, sinking them to $28 billion. AVIXA forecasts that this market will not return to its previous peak revenues for AV pros until 2022, after which it is forecast to achieve true growth through 2025.

There’s more to the story about why things aren’t quite as bad as one might think, though. Glance back at the opening paragraph, in which I alluded to the adaptations that venues have made to keep audiences engaged. The key theme is virtualization. In previous years, when crowds were more guaranteed, investments in venues went toward upgrading and improving fixed or integrated technologies. This included investing in large, direct-view-LED screens; sophisticated audio systems; attention-getting lighting; and other technology. Moreover, these venues invested in rental and staging, design and consultation. In the current “normal,” all this has shifted. Although a part of the investment is certainly similar to before, the current emphasis is on technology and infrastructure to support audience extension. Now, the name of the game is utilizing cameras, video-production equipment, content storage, media servers and other networking architecture to facilitate distribution.

How much is invested here? Front-of-house (FOH) capture and production technologies represent a $2.3 billion slice of spending by venues this year. By comparison, back-of-house infrastructure in the streaming-media and storage category account for more than three times that—almost $9 billion. This is where IT and AV intersect. Although not all server technology integrated into a facility is part of an AV solution, a fair amount of it is—in particular, the portion used for content distribution. As a result, the AV provider of today lives in both worlds and must come prepared with capabilities that, in another era, might have been relegated to divergent specialists. With AV-over-IP having now become the de-facto standard, AV pros have to know more about network optimization and data security than ever before. That’s especially true if they want a piece of the demanding venue pie.

Adaptation is what the current environment is all about in the world of commercial AV. Although most everyone expects that, in the long run, in-person events will return and investments will shift back more toward traditional AV, something fundamental about solutions in this market and many others has changed for good. The need to support audience extension through content distribution is now here and it’s likely to stay, continuing and solidifying the longstanding journey toward uniting AV and IT into overlapping disciplines. If you haven’t already, now’s the time to embrace the evolving “normal” by taking a fresh look at your product and skills mix. Your ability to flourish as an AV firm might just depend on you doing so.

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