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Manufacturers Re-Embrace Channel at CEDIA

A few companies went out of their way to express their support for custom integrators.

These days when polemic politics, world events, and natural disasters can torpedo public confidence at the drop of a tweet, one never knows what to expect in the complicated consumer-influenced world of custom integration. And attendance at the annual CEDIA trade show, as a reflection on our industry, can be just as unpredictable. So, I embarked on my trip to San Diego last month with tempered expectations.

According to the show’s new owners, Emerald Expositions, more than 20,000 home tech professionals participated in the event, which was a seven percent increase over last year. And, anecdotally, the show felt busier and more crowded than prior years. It wasn’t the crowds, however, that stood out the most for me. It was the renewed embrace of the channel by exhibiting manufacturers.

A few companies went out of their way to express their support for custom integrators. Lutron, which in recent years had invested heavily in mass-market Internet of Things (IoT) solutions, turned its full attention to the CEDIA channel this year with both premium-level additions to its Palladiom line as well as more accessible options within its HomeWorks QS system. To make sure the point wasn’t missed, apparently, the title of my Lutron preshow briefing materials was, “Lutron Displays Resounding Commitment to Custom Install Channel at CEDIA 2017.”

That message was echoed by LG in its press conference, as well as in a conversation with Samsung Electronics America executives, who seemed eager to step up their efforts to better serve the CI channel through the introduction of a 5-Star Solutions program. It features a new CI-dedicated web portal, expanded control partnerships, IP integration, and enhanced sales and distribution support. This is certainly a wise move, considering the ongoing success of competitors in the category that have already introduced similar CI-friendly programs. Yet, the words “CI-dedicated portal” were still stunning to me, when most major video manufacturers were absent from or considering abandoning the CEDIA show just a few years ago.

Even major loudspeaker brand Klipsch seemed to recommit to the channel after dedicating several years to selling mass-market wireless speakers. At CEDIA, the Indianapolis-based brand added more than 50 new high-performance custom speaker solutions for residential and commercial applications that feature new installation technologies designed to “save integrators time and money.”

Prior to this year’s CEDIA, I had been concerned about recent trends away from the CI channel, toward the direct-to-consumer, DIY model. That trend won’t go away, of course, but this renewed focus on CI from several major brands buoyed my confidence in the channel. There’s clearly no single go-to-market strategy that will work for today’s smart home, as we live in a complicated world. I’m just happy that our channel is still considered an important part of it.