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Streaming to the Future

Video Distribution is the Next Hot Market in Custom Installation

Its tough to generalize about the impact of the slowing housing market on custom installation. Installers in markets dependent on new home construction are surely feeling the pinch, but those relying on renovation and remodeling continue to click along. Irrespective of the housing market, however, there is one aspect of CI where all installers should be seeing rapid, perhaps even spectacular growth in their businesses. If theyre not, they should be taking steps to remedy the situation.

Home video distribution is poised for the same explosive growth as home audio distribution and home theater were a decade ago. Some of the reasons for this are the same, but new trends in lifestyle and technology could well push consumer demand for home video distribution even stronger than it did audio.

Video Distribution Opportunities Abound
Last year, TV industry market research firm Nielsen reported that the typical American home had more than one video display for every occupant. This, it would seem, is a favorable indicator of consumer attitudes toward distributed video.

As happened in the audio market, quality products and systems for video distribution have proliferated at a range of prices. In video, installers can now offer consumers packaged solutions based on RF, baseband, and broadband technology, and featuring the kind of convenience and ease of use homeowners found that they could have with whole-home audio. Video system prices are not down to the per room cost of audio, but they are not far away and are becoming more affordable with every new product cycle.

More important, people today are expressing at least as strong an affinity for video and TV as they are for music and audio. Soaring MP3 player sales not withstanding, people still spend more time in a typical day watching TV or video than listening to music. In the cellular arena, content providers are banking that video delivery will dwarf that of music and audio-only files.

Whats Driving the Trend
The single most important factor is probably flat-panel TVHD or otherwise. Flat panel has caught the publics eye and imagination, and has given people the option to put video in places where it previously wasnt possible, let alone practical.

Coinciding with the hardware craze for HD and flat panel, consumers are coming to expect the same portability with video media as they now have with audio. On the go, it means having a portable version to take with you (on your cell phone or media player). At home, it means being able to view content in any room (or rooms), regardless of the source.

Home video distribution will also get an indirect but firm push from the telecom and cable industries, now engaged in high stakes market wars to be consumers single-source for home phone, broadband, and entertainment (i.e. video and music) services. As companies battle for consumers business, the variety and quality of services, particularly digital TV and video-on-demand, will increase, and customers with distributed home video will derive more enjoyment from these expanded services.

Though it can be a little embarrassing to admit, conspicuous consumption will also help fuel demand. Just as whole-home audio has become a standard feature of luxury (and near-luxury) homes, distributed video will gain ground as a status milestone. We already see this trend in the top tier of the market, and installers should not be shy about encouraging well-heeled customers to buy the best video distribution solution they can afford.

And, of course, digital convergence is also playing a role. Eventually, there will be no difference between installing a distributed audio or video system. It will be one in the same, because all content (and control information) will move in the digital domain and move over a single IP-based network. Until then, you will see incremental changes, such as the migration from dedicated audio or video servers toward multi-purpose media servers.

New Training Requirements
The complexity of configuring and installing distributed video, compared with audio, will require increasing numbers of video-trained installers, and this is probably the one area that could put a brake on industry growth. Because word-of-mouth customer referral is a significant source of new business, installation companies must maintain a high level of customer satisfaction when putting in distributed video systems. Theres no such thing as a neutral affect in this market: customers who are happy will be the industrys most influential evangelists; those who arent will discourage others from taking the plunge.

For installers seeing their business slow with the housing market, its time you went over your customer lists (if you havent already) to see who among your audio system clients might finally be ready for that video upgrade. But regardless of how your business is weathering the housing trend, the next big trend in home systems is video, and if youre not on it, your competitor across town very likely will be.

Petro Shimonishi ([email protected]) is vice president of marketing and product management for NetStreams, an IP-based distributed entertainment products manufacturer, based in Austin, Texas.