Integrated Systems Europe, the European trade show focused on professional AV, is scheduled for a physical presence in Barcelona from 10-13 May 2022. It will be the show’s debut at the Fira exhibition centre after outgrowing the RAI in Amsterdam.
The 2019 edition was ISE’s largest show yet with over 1,300 exhibitors and 81,000 visitors. Just over 700 vendors have bought space for this pandemic-hit edition.
The Western European market for pro AV contracted 21% in 2020 to $22.3 billion due to Covid-19 according to AVIXA, the trade body which together with home technology trade association CEDIA runs ISE. Growth is predicted to exceed 10% this year, although pre-pandemic levels of spending ($28 billion) are not expected until 2023-24.
Bringing back the wow-factor
Although mass-attend live events remain something of a novelty, it won’t be too long before audiences become just as demanding of innovation as they were pre-pandemic. This means that event producers need to deploy an increasingly sophisticated set of solutions to deliver an immersive experience that embraces physical and virtual attendees.
“The ability to engage remote guests and live audiences in an interactive way is crucial to AV going forward,” says Liam Hayter, Senior Solutions Architect, NewTek.
“The division between when light stops being a fixture and starts being eye candy or a video product has blurred – and that blurring will only continue,” Jason Larcombe, Senior Project Manager, White Light
There’s considerable interest in using LED screens and projection to connect speakers and groups to an event wherever they may be, he believes.
“AV pros now don’t bat an eyelid when they set up hybrid events using multiple NDI streams, a spectacular studio set with big-screen projection and imaginative LED configurations, plus mapped elements, for a primarily online audience,” says Trond Solvold, Sales Director, Dataton.
This means that stage and set lighting must now be designed with the camera in mind rather than just for the venue itself. For example, the refresh rates of stage lighting, including from LED panels, should be technically compatible with the video streaming solution.
ISE 2022 features a new Lighting & Staging Zone with solutions for rigging and staging equipment, motion tracking, video mapping, lighting control and holography. From TV shows like Strictly Come Dancing to concerts like the holographic ABBAtars launching in London this spring, audiences want a higher level of glitz, engagement and spectacle.
“As the on-stage canvas widens to integrate video, LED and projection, so the job of the lighting designer merges with the scenic production designer and the AV designer to become almost one role: the visual designer,” says Jason Larcombe, Senior Project Manager, White Light. “The division between when light stops being a fixture and starts being eye candy or a video product has blurred – and that blurring will only continue.”
Mind the skills gap
The AV industry was facing a skills crisis long before the pandemic. In some sectors it is now acute, with freelancers in particular lured to permanent employment or outside the industry itself.
“Live events are dominated by freelancers for whom life was harder because there was no package of security and support, so they left the industry,” says Tobias Lang, CEO, Lang AG.
“Every AV company and every end user is looking to hire permanent staff,” confirms Graeme Massey, MD at recruitment agency JacobsMassey. “Consequently, there are fewer candidates in the market. Salaries have exponentially increased to attract the remaining pool of freelancers.”
Freelance rates have also soared by 40-50%, while vacancies that used to attract a couple dozen CVs now have several hundred.
Massey adds: “Generally, you need someone who understands both AV system architecture and broadcast networks to deliver events online. That online element is here to stay and has widened the skills gap.”
A chief problem that existed pre-Covid was one of branding. The industry needs to do more to raise awareness of the opportunities an AV career can bring.
“This is the main challenge,” Lang insists. “The general public have an awareness of what it means to work in IT but the same is not true of AV. We have to change this.”
The diversity of career opportunity within AV needs to be contrasted with the more familiar career goals of music or media production.
“As we emerge from the turmoil, it’s astounding how much market rebound has been achieved against all the odds,” Matthew Rubin, Futuresource
“A career in AV is very broad,” says Jack Laidlaw, who ran an AV course at Middlesbrough College. “You can be dealing with audio, projection, networking, computing – online or at a venue. There’s systems integration and management. AV is like an international language. Once you understand it, you can go all over the world.”
Price rises and kit shortages are also bubbling under the surface. Companies in the professional displays market, for instance, experienced a bleak 2020, with value dropping by more than 15% year-on-year, according to Futuresource Consulting.
The pandemic caused disruption, factories closed due to an assumed drop in demand, and natural disasters also played their part. Earthquakes hit a Japanese semiconductor manufacturing plant, winter storms struck a Texas plant, while a fire and severe drought slashed production in Taiwan.
“In addition, some vendors have suffered due to under-forecasting the recovery and falling to the back of the queue for component orders,” says Matthew Rubin, senior market analyst at Futuresource.
Few vendors like to talk about the issue publicly for fear of dissuading potential buyers. At the same time many do voice concern in private and want to get the message out to the market that the global supply chain is impacting freight rates and higher logistics costs are causing potential price rises. One company that has stuck its head above water is Belgian digital imaging and projection vendor Barco. It expects its 2021 earnings to be negatively impacted and has been forced to increase its product prices.
The demand for LED
That said, the display market contains within it the seeds of a successful rebound. Arguably, digital signage has never been more useful for sharing information in public spaces. Indeed, 2021 saw a 27% growth in this market, valued globally at $36 billion, reckons Futuresource.
“As we emerge from the turmoil, it’s astounding how much market rebound has been achieved against all the odds,” says Rubin. “Product quality has matured, brand equity is moving to the forefront and the downstream supply chain is placing more emphasis on the combined offering of product, solution and service. This demand for a more premium solution is destabilising the technology leadership of Chinese brands.”
Other research points to huge demand for LED billboards, a market in which companies like Barco, Daktronics, Absen and Leyard have a stake. Market Insights forecasts a CAGR of 7.5% to $600 million 2021-2027.
LED itself is the dominant technology in this space, growing at over 22% a year to 2025 (Futuresource). It is evolving too from surface mount device (SMD) LED, through MiniLED toward MicroLED.
Another variant is transparent OLED – look for this to be LG’s ISE showstopper. Due to OLED’s self-emissive nature, OLED is transparent enough to replace glass. At CES in January, LG debuted a retail concept in which four 55in transparent OLEDs were arranged to mimic a shop window. The tech is also proposed for use in the home to display paintings or other ambient backdrops.
The technologies and workflows differentiating AV from broadcast have been shunted closer together during the pandemic. The obvious examples are the application of virtual meeting tools as a broadcast standard, while broadcast workflows are being utilised more frequently in enterprise video conferencing.
“The difference is shrinking rapidly,” says Marc Risby, MD, Boxer Systems, a supplier and integrator which covers both markets. “Broadcast used to mean having an aerial on the roof. Now you just need an internet connection. The last job we did for an investment bank was built to a higher standard - in 4K - than a local news studio.”
Major corporate customers with internal AV departments “would traditionally have limited understanding of the most complex broadcast practices”, says Bob Boster, President, Clear-Com. “But largely because of Covid, they have been doing more and more media production workflows like live streaming meetings, training and other events.”
Another notable AV-to-broadcast tech exchange is LED screens. Netflix’ forthcoming epic 1899 uses virtual production techniques in which live action photography is shot on stages ringed by LED backdrops.
Fundamentally the convergence of AV with broadcast concerns AV-over-IP.
“While AV is likely ahead of traditional broadcast in terms of the implementation of AV-over-IP, it is looking to broadcast standards – like ST-2110 and NMOS – that can provide it with interoperability and refine into an AV technology standard like IPMX,” says Ron Berty, Business Development Manager, Matrox Video. “The common goal is interoperability and elimination of technology dependence.”
The two industries are unlikely to converge completely. An example of this is the imperative in live broadcasting for super-low latency which the ST-2110 standard provides using uncompressed video.
On the other hand, as costs reduce to democratise access, Mike Grieve, Commercial Director of Mo-Sys Engineering, says: “There’s no reason why the majority of kit used for broadcast is any different to that in a corporate.”
Catering to the 0.001%
One market putting clear water between AV and broadcast is that of the superyacht. Buoyed by “astounding” growth of 45% in 2020 for build orders and refits, Jack Robinson, the chair of ISE’s inaugural Superyacht Technology Summit, says these “ultra-high net worth individuals” have continued to make money during the pandemic “and have insisted on a safe, virus-free environment for their family and work teams”.
According to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, 0.001% of the population benefited during the health crisis. Superyacht owners are now younger, tech savvy and demand technology that works faster, sleeker and more efficiently, explains Robinson.
“Smart homes have led the way to smart superyachts. It is not a case of purely copy and pasting from other industries though, as superyachts require additional finessing in the development stage. For example, LG’s roll-up TV is exactly the type of technology that new owners will be looking for. However, the R&D required for superyachting includes additional things like vibration testing.”
Summit delegates can expect VIP treatment including ‘a lavish networking dinner in one of Barcelona’s top restaurants’.
ISE MD Mike Blackman says the superyacht market represents significant opportunities for vendors.
“It brings together high-end solutions for luxurious living and sophisticated technologies for navigation, communications and connectivity. It is an important market for many of our major exhibitors.”