If you plan to attend CEDIA EXPO 2016 this coming September, you'll notice a big, gaping hole where the massive Crestron booth used to be. (OK, not a hole; more likely another exhibitor.) The automation company has confirmed that it will not be participating in the show.
Crestron's Director of Corporate Communications, Linda Rigano, tells WiFi HiFi that the decision isn't an indication that the company is getting out of residential automation. Quite the contrary. They remain "committed to the luxury residential market." But, she added that the company's strategies are "not the same as those exhibited by the association today."
Crestron isn't abandoning trade show participation on the whole. The company will still participate in other events throughout North America, including the Luxury Portfolio International SUMMIT that's geared toward real estate professionals, and the Architectural Digest Home Design Show, which takes place in New York next month. But don't expect to see them at CEDIA, touting their latest receivers, controllers, touch screens, and more.
Is this a smart move? One Canadian custom integrator asks whether those shows attract the dealers that actually sell the products. "That's not where we go," he tells WiFi HiFi. "And it's guys like us that install for the luxury market." While he felt the comment about strategies not aligning could be made by Crestron about CES, not so about CEDIA, he believes. "If CEDIA is not considered the place for luxury residential," he asked, "then I'm not sure what is. CEDIA is where we would seek goods to fill that category if we were starting from scratch today."
The Changing Custom Integration Market
While it might be shocking to some to see such a major brand opt out of the very show that's dedicated to its industry, it's not all that surprising. The custom integration market is being pulled in a number of directions, thanks to several factors. Do-it-yourself entry-level devices and apps are putting pressure on higher-end integrators, resulting in some playing in these fields as well and offering devices that cater to both sides (think Sonos and Nest). Integrators are moving further and further into commercial work to offset declines from the residential side as well. Some residential automation companies may be taking on smaller jobs meant to "fix" DIY smart home installs gone wrong, or cater to the more entry-level customer. And brands are helping by offering their own solutions for these customers: Savant introduced an entry-level controller at CEDIA last year, and Control4 launched a $650 automation controller last month that is aimed at the "starter" smart home customer.
That leaves shows like CEDIA, and companies like Crestron, in a strange position. More all-encompassing events, like the International CES, now focus on the smart home, too, and attract exhibitors like Savant and Control4. A large part of the Sands Convention Center is dedicated each year to smart home technology. But the category is still lost in a two-million square foot sea of other burgeoning ones; from VR, to drones and wearables.
Beyond North America, Crestron participated in Integrated Systems Europe this year, which took place last week in Amsterdam, and attracts plenty of industry members from both the U.S. and Canada. That show caters to the AV and integration market, and appears to focus on only those tried and true integration brands - no entry-level there.
Not the Only One
Crestron isn't alone in its thinking. Last month, Electronic Arts (EA), one of the biggest names in video game publishing, confirmed that it would not be exhibiting at this year's E3 Expo in California. Instead, the company will hold its own event called EA Play right across the street. It will introduce its new games directly to consumers, bypassing the trade and media altogether.
Microsoft still has a presence at CES, but the company hasn't exhibited there in quite some time. Apple used to participate in MacWorld, but switched focus years ago and opted to have its own media events, a strategy that has proven to be widely successful. Google has never really participated by exhibiting at any of the major North American technology trade shows.
Shifting With the Times
Money may play a factor as well. Does Crestron really need to fork over all of that money to exhibit at CEDIA? What's its return on the investment? Likewise, does EA need to be part of E3? Or is the money better spent elsewhere?
Luxury residential dealers certainly still represent a large portion of CEDIA's attendees, as does media who cover that space. And while CEDIA is shifting gears a bit to expand its scope, arguably so are luxury dealers. Yes, even luxury homes have easy-to-set-up devices like Sonos speakers and the same smart thermostats that the average homebuyer grabs from his local Lowe's. While the industry is, in large part, about $10,000 tower speakers, $5,000 turntables, and expensive, integrated touch panels, it isn't all about that gear.
That said, is CEDIA delving too far on the other side? It's a slippery slope from a high-end, in-wall speaker connected to your automation network, to a portable Bluetooth device in your powder room. And yes, there were plenty of those on display at CEDIA 2015.
In other words, what truly defines "high-end" when it comes to custom integration? It's definitely not a long list of smart products all controlled by a ton of separate mobile apps. That frustrating lack of integration is exactly the problem automation systems promise to solve.
But there's still a place for some (certainly not all) of the more, what we call entry-level gear. How might you classify an Apple TV or a Google Chromecast? These devices scream DIY, but chances are, you'll find a few of them in the homes of even the highest end customer. Luxury dealers likely wouldn't be put off by seeing either device on display at a show like CEDIA. The more I know about what's going on over the other side of the fence with a burgeoning industry that's directly impacting my business, the better.
It may just be a matter of whether you want to exhibit alongside these companies and devices, or prefer to stick to your core. Rigano notes several moves Crestron is making to show its commitment to the residential market, including opening a new multi-million-dollar showroom in Florida and research and testing lab at its headquartered in New Jersey, and appointing a residential executive team to head up the division. She also noted Crestron would be expanding its sales and marketing tools for dealers and other related industries.
There's no right or wrong answer. That said, it'll be interesting to see how Crestron's absence impacts CEDIA EXPO, and the perception of the company at the event. Note that Crestron does remain a CEDIA member. And the door hasn't completely closed: Rigano does not rule out participation in the show again. "Exhibiting...may fit into our plans some time in the future," she said.
What are your thoughts on the decision?