Manufacturers on the HOW ParadigmRoundtable experts discuss the church market's growth and impact on the AV industry. 7/01/2007 8:00 AM Eastern
Manufacturers on the HOW Paradigm
Jul 1, 2007 12:00 PM, By Dan Daley
Roundtable experts discuss the church market's growth and impact on the AV industry.
Earlier this year, Sound & Video Contactor examined the houses of worship (HOW) market from the point of view of integrators (svconline
_roundtable). However, the manufacturers targeting that market have their own perspective on it. Sharing their views on the trends and issues in this growing market segment are representatives of several major manufacturers that make AV technology. They include Joe Fustolo, specialist with EAW's Application Support Group (ASG); John Broadhead, director of technology for Roland Systems Group, focused on audio (RSS) and video (Edirol) products; Michael MacDonald, executive vice president of marketing, Harman Pro Group; Robert Scovill, market manger, live sound division at Digidesign; Jeff Lange, Aviom's consultant liaison; and Robin Richards, marketing manager, houses of worship, at Sony Electronics.
From your perspective, what are key challenges facing installers/integrators today in the houses of worship market?
Joe Fustolo: Educating customers about system technology is one challenge. Often, this ties into explaining and justifying costs. And then, there's the education and training process that must follow the implementation of the system. Competition is another challenge. More entities are entering the integration field, and some are all too willing to play the price game — promising the world at an unbelievably low cost, with the system results invariably ranging from disappointing to disastrous. This works against all of us, and takes the discussion back to the importance of educating customers, including being up-front about cost issues and very clear about compromises that might need to be made to attain a quality result.
John Broadhead: Customers are expecting higher impact for their investment. Many churches don't want to be presenting and performing at a “good enough” level. They want to push the quality and level of excellence as high as their resources will allow. As a result, integrators have to be experts in a much broader array of technologies. For example, live sound is no longer the most important piece on its own. Instead, the question becomes: How does sound get distributed, recorded, and integrated into the video mix or web stream? Churches expect a greater understanding of integration of audio, video, lighting, and IT.
Michael MacDonald: There are specific issues facing each strata of the worship market based upon the size of the facility, the size of the congregation, and the format of service. But the common challenge facing integrators is how to design and build a system that couples optimal system performance for voice and speech with intuitive ease of use that allows novices and professionals to extract the best from the system. [Harman Pro is] addressing this issue with HiQnet, which integrates high-performance components programmable to the most sophisticated level, yet manageable through a GUI that can be custom-designed for each house of worship, each performance, or each application. Similarly, training is an issue. Labor for programming is an increasing cost element on bids and specs as integrators are required to program multiple, disparate components for sound systems, video systems, switchers, and so on.
Robert Scovill: I think the key challenges are working intimately with not only the technical staff, but also the church administrators in close conjunction with an architect to ensure that what is being specified will actually meet the short-, medium-, and long-term goals of the church. In this day and age, it is mission-critical, because the face of the contemporary worship experience is changing right before our eyes. Many times, the agenda of the visionaries, architect, and systems integrator can be in direct conflict with one another, and yet, no one finds out until that very painful day when it all gets switched on.
Jeff Lange: Possibly the single most prominent issue [Aviom deals] with is excessive stage volumes. As integrators, we spend many hours behind the computer looking at coverage maps and interference patterns trying to properly design a speaker system. After the main speaker system is designed, an open floor monitor system negates all of the hard work and dooms many systems to be mediocre at best.
Robin Richards: It's important for them to understand that houses of worship are different from customers in other market segments in terms of audio and video production requirements and technological infrastructure. [Sony Electronics works] hard to help our system integrators understand the balance that needs to be struck between simply installing new technology and integrating AV effectively into the individual style of a ministry, blending it into their services to enhance and enrich the congregation's experiences. They also often have to deal with purely logistical issues, such as retrofitting spaces that were not originally designed to accommodate technology, developing technology solutions that can work across multi-campus environments, all while trying to keep each space in the ministry as intimate as possible.
How are manufacturers changing your companies to specifically assist integrators in the HOW market?
Fustolo: It’s not a matter of creating subdivisions within the company, but rather, constantly trying to improve the performance of our loudspeakers, while also meeting other requirements as much as possible. Most larger churches, as well as the churches that have the money and desire to improve their audio systems, consistently seek the newest technology, whether it be loudspeakers, processing, consoles, and so on. At the same time, we’re always striving to keep relative costs down in order to help fulfill the needs of any church that wishes to upgrade its sound quality.
Broadhead: In 2005, Roland formed a new company called Roland Systems Group (RSG). RSG brings greater focus to specialty markets, such as houses of worship. We participate in training and support during mainstream and grass roots events around the country. RSG also provides specialty resources on the Web for designers and consultants, as well as an online newsletter dedicated to people using technology in worship called "Engage."
MacDonald: We’re working hard to support integrators in the field. Our Harman Pro Roadshow [was, at press time,] on a nine-city tour to integrators in the field featuring seminars on topics like "Scalable Sound Systems for Houses of Worship," designed to provide complete sound system solutions that directly address the specific needs of every worship space. We’re also listening closely to end users, reps, contractors, and consultants to build the right components and systems to suit each various HOW venue and application.
Scovill: I don’t know that I see it as changing, per se, but more a matter of refining how we inform integrators and end users about what our products have to offer compared to our competitors. At Digidesign, we historically strive to offer products that tend to challenge a great deal of generally accepted workflows. Our entry into the live sound market, while very successful, is still relatively young, and we need to ensure that integrators, as well as end users, know what our product provides, not only in terms of technical solutions, but solutions that can enhance the workflow of the creative user. We currently offer product specialists and a sales force that have a great deal of actual working experience in the HOW world as users, and yet are well-versed technically with a wide swath of our product line.
Lange: Aviom now has a houses of worship marketing manager, Craig Sibley, whose role is specifically dedicated to teaching seminars and developing communications with the church market. In addition to being an audio professional and seminar instructor for many years, Craig is also a worship leader and musician himself, and he’s worked with many church tech teams, so he really understands their needs. We also have some dedicated house-of-worship literature that speaks directly to this audience, such as the "Aviom & the Worship Experience" brochure and several church-oriented application notes.
Richards: Sony has developed a dedicated team of sales and marketing professionals focused on the house of worship market. These resources are complimented by a national network of resellers, distributors, and system integrators, as well as Sony’s own force of support engineers and sales professionals who are available to train, educate, and support houses of worship in every aspect of their audio and video operations. Our goal is to provide ministries with the most comprehensive support from a technical and services standpoint so that we’re better equipped to provide solutions that meet their needs. Education and awareness of the benefits of technology is a key component of our strategy to support integrators that work with these end users.
What are the issues integrators grapple with when they combine audio, video, and multimedia in churches, and how are technology manufacturers responding to meet those challenges?
Fustolo: Everyone seems to want the latest technologies, but at the same time, they don’t want any of this technology to be visible due to aesthetic concerns. Thus, the more the integrator can do to either hide or minimize the overall size and look of technology, the more appealing it is to the end user.
Broadhead: Among a number of challenges facing the integrator, integrated distribution and ease of use top the list. We work hard to make highly advanced products easy to use. For example, the church is a leading adopter of a concept we helped pioneer where video follows live worship, instead of performance having to follow video [via click]. This concept required a new workflow. We helped simplify it by designing a very intuitive interface.
MacDonald: I think it’s incumbent on manufacturers to speak with manufacturers in other non-competitive product areas to discuss integration at the product level to pave the way for enhanced integration at the integrator level. This shouldn’t be limited simply to audio companies speaking with video companies, but also to security technology providers and makers of access control, HVAC, lighting control, mechanical wall companies, and more. This will make life easier for integrators.
Scovill: The challenges overall are difficult to discern if you look at HOW as one big market, which I don’t tend to do personally. I find it somewhat easier if I break HOW into small, medium, and large demographics. I do this simply because their demands, both in terms of personnel and technology, tend to differ slightly from one another. If I were to pick a challenge common to all of them, it would be how to choose a topology that is right for both the user base and the production demands of the church, and also one that enhances, not inhibits, the worship experience. Add to that the concept of designing for tiered and sometimes rapid growth potential, and those challenges seem to grow exponentially.
Lange: As the term AV truly becomes audio and video together, we have to think about both systems together. For instance, Aviom has tested and documented a method to run 32 channels of audio from the stage, 16 channels of audio back to the stage, and composite video together all on a single Cat-5e cable.
Richards: Our job as a manufacturer is to develop the technologies and systems. Then we need to work with systems integrators and the ministries themselves on the best way to incorporate these products into the day-to-day lifestyle of their community. It’s critical to not only be proficient in all technologies, but to also finding a balance between all components.
Churches often rely on volunteers, who are not always very technically proficient, to man AV systems. How has operation and functional control of those systems changed to accommodate this reality?
Fustolo: On the electronic component side of the audio system equation, there's been a good deal of progress in making systems both easier to operate and more automatic in terms of setting up various configurations and optimization. This has been a positive trend of the past several years, and it's logical to surmise it will continue. Add to this loudspeakers with much-improved pattern control tailored with sophisticated DSP and with stored optimized settings that can't be altered without password authorization, and the chances of suffering from operator-based issues have substantially decreased. There is also an increasing number of church sound system operators who are much more serious about their roles in general, and specifically, are taking advantage of the ever-increasing educational opportunities available to them in learning audio and system essentials.
Broadhead: We are finding the value of the volunteer is becoming more about their passion and creative ability. If these are there to begin with, then technical proficiency will follow. We encourage churches to make volunteers part of the whole story, and not just to teach them about buttons and knobs. This is especially the case with video, multimedia, and lighting.
We also know creative flow shuts down very quickly when the technology is too techy or is flaky. In order to address that, we put a greater investment into touchscreen user interfaces, reliability, and dedicated solutions, and stayed away from building software to run on general-purpose computers.
MacDonald: This is very much the case, and it's critical that we make our products usable to the volunteer corps while ratcheting up sonic performance, integration, and versatility of our systems. HiQnet goes a long way to match each user group with customizable levels of control, and we're also providing as much educational support as we can. This includes online education, working with the industry publications, running our road show, and working with reps to host training sessions and attending worship-centric events, such as [the Worship Facilities Conference and Expo].
Scovill: In my time of dealing with churches as a service producer, I've often noticed that in the tech areas, the churches generally don't look for volunteers by the strictest of definitions. What they're actually looking for is volunteer professionals, meaning people in the congregation who hold some sort of technical skill in audio or video. This is an important distinction, because these are folks who possess at least some concept of what they are being asked to do. In turn, this also means they can easily be taught and coached. One of [Digidesign's] Venue features, known as Virtual Soundcheck, plays directly into this mindset by allowing senior staff to teach and evaluate the skill level and abilities of a volunteer, and also audition their work before a Sunday service is ever online.
Lange: The Aviom monitoring system has been such a big success in houses of worship because it allows each individual musician to control their own mix, so they're not reliant on a less-than-proficient sound guy for what they hear. They each hear what they want, so they play better and sound better together.
Richards: From an operational standpoint, many ministries do need to rely on volunteer staff to operate and maintain their equipment, so full-time AV personnel are not always at the controls. Therefore, equipment needs to be intuitive, training and support needs to be easily accessible and readily available, and an emphasis on after-sale service and support is critical.
Are houses of worship fertile fields for high-definition media technologies? What have past technology adoption processes for worship facilities been like (e.g., addition of video, transitions to line arrays, etc.) and what do they suggest for the future?
Broadhead: Past technology additions, such as video and line arrays, hit upon more architectural and structural issues. For example, adding video to a church that was not built with video in mind can be a challenge with columns, no wall space for screens, and high ambient light. Adding HD doesn't have this same level of challenge, other than whether you want to change to a 16:9 screen or simply run letterbox on 4:3. Adding HD does not require complete replacement all at once. It can be comfortably blended with standard-definition technologies and phased in. Multiformat switchers, mixers, and converters are readily available and affordable.
Scovill: This is a very interesting mindset to witness in today's contemporary churches. For instance, I currently live in Scottsdale, Ariz. — a pretty affluent area — and I see this in play big time here at not only my home church, but also at other high-end churches in the valley. There is simply a look and feel that speaks directly to this demographic, and it is one that simply includes HD. For example, if you were to go into Fox Sports Grill in Scottsdale, you'd expect all sports screens to be 16:9 HD. If you go into some place as utilitarian as The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf for a simple cup of coffee, what you see while you're sipping your soy latte is 16:9 HD video of news events, etc. It's just a part of the landscape now, and churches are seeing it more and more as a minimum ante to speak to a media-savvy congregation.
Richards: The proliferation of affordable and complete AV systems solutions is making it possible for more houses of worship to contemplate a move to high-definition. For example, many ministries that may have been audio-only are adding visual elements; those using straightforward projection are adding live cameras; or those that had one camera are moving to multiple cameras, as well as integrating elements acquired in the field. Add in the potential for broadcasting and webcasting, and the future holds significant potential for HD technology in houses of worship.
Are integrators your primary interface to the church market, or do manufacturers interface directly with the users?
Fustolo: We believe very strongly in the ability and expertise of the integrators working with EAW products. They understand their customers to an exceptional degree, and they also provide us with invaluable input that helps us better meet their needs and produce better loudspeaker systems.
EAW, in the past, has not been an exhibitor at many of the dedicated church tradeshows, but we commend many of these organizations for the good educational opportunities they offer to church technical staff. We meet with a large number of church operators at system tradeshows such as NSCA and InfoComm, and further, this year we are taking a newer approach in hosting dozens of road shows [called “B4”], where we can bring our product and technology to a wider number of people in a much more intimate setting. The goal is providing education to these operators, as well as to integrators, with a curriculum dedicated to teaching concepts such as point-source theory, acoustical analysis, and more, in addition to providing hands-on product demonstrations and training.
Broadhead: From a supply point of view, we interface through integrators and resellers. Recognizing the number of people involved in decision-making in the church, we also see the need for direct involvement. Dedicated shows and grassroots events are very useful for hands-on, face-to-face time with users. They are thirsty for knowledge.
MacDonald: Integrators are our primary interface. The houses of worship market is a sophisticated market impacted by architecture, acoustics, technology, applications, and the ceremony and worship cast of characters, from architects to volunteers and choral members. This, therefore, requires the input, expertise, and project management of trained, experienced professionals, and is not something a manufacturer can, or should, be trying to do. Integrators and consultants are our customers, because we understand this and build the products that allow them to be more effective and successful.
Scovill: It's a good balance of both if you're talking about gaining product knowledge and refining the application of the technology. We have had some wonderful instances where churches have provided solutions using our product that we might never have discovered without being in direct contact with them.
Lange: At Aviom, our integrators play a key part in our success and we have always reached out to end users. Our sales and customer service people all have gained a lot of experience working with houses of worship. Many of us are musicians, so we understand the point of view of a praise team member or music minister who's using our mixer in church.
Richards: We do both, working through system integrators and other resellers, as well as working directly with houses of worship. We also feel it's important for Sony to stay involved with the end user so we're able to understand the complexities of the market firsthand. But our systems integrators are a critical component of the work we do in the houses of worship segment, working with them to provide the best possible solution.
Broadcast and postproduction have become more important and ubiquitous in the houses of worship marketplace, and it's not just megachurches anymore. The demand for worship services distributed on DVD or via the Internet and low-wattage broadcasting has increased. How are these needs being addressed from a technology and product perspective? How is the desktop/laptop revolution in postproduction affecting the church market?
Broadhead: From a user-performance and workflow point of view, the dedicated device and intuitive interface still provide advantages to ease of use, reliability, efficiency, and ramp-up time over the PC. The higher production level still requires volunteers; thus, ease of use and reliability are still the critical factors.
MacDonald: Missionary work has been an important role among worship groups since the dawn of time, and for a long time in the modern era, that was limited to tape duplication and radio. Then came television, and the megachurches immediately gained access to vast audiences, but with DVD technology and online video, the opportunities for mission work increases exponentially. However, all of these methods rely on high-quality audio to effectively communicate the message. This means quality microphones recording the pastor, the choir, and the musicians, and quality recording, mixing, and monitoring technology at the FOH. Just because it's high quality does not require the solution to be expensive, and we're seeing contractors integrating any mix of our good, better, and best solutions in a range of worship facilities for broadcast, DVD, and webcast applications.
Scovill: From where I sit, HOW is a unique market in that they need solutions for not only live sound, live recording, live video, lighting, post, and broadcast, but also for the immediate distribution of media such as CDs, MP3s, and even cassettes. Live music and worship events are forms of outreach for the churches and the worship leaders, and they simply need a transport mechanism in order to get these events in the hands of seekers, congregation members, and the world in general.
[Regarding PCs], if you really want to see this firsthand, check out the youth areas of today's churches. They are filled with high-end computers, creating multimedia presentations on a grand and very creative scale. It's their communication mechanism, and frankly, the hardware and software to do so is as exotic to them as a microwave oven is to you and I. They are the future leaders of the contemporary churches, and it doesn't take a crystal ball to see where and how they want it all to pan out in their time at the helm of the church experience.
Lange: Aviom is addressing the challenge by continuing to develop and perfect the digital audio network. With our networking technology, we can duplicate the audio signal and not only send it to broadcast, but as many places as necessary. The computer continues to replace components of a traditional AV system. With this in mind, we are developing a computer card that will allow the user to directly interface with our audio network.
Richards: Our product line includes technologies that support all levels of the AV production pyramid. For example, our Anycast Station live content producer is a perfect fit for ministries because it combines several functions — including a switcher, mixer, effects, and more — into one portable package. One person can easily handle the functions of a three- or four-person crew, [so it's] ideal for ministries with tight personnel resources. Also, the system's ability to control robotic pan-tilt-zoom cameras — such as Sony's EVI series of cameras or the BRC-300 and BRC-H700 — allows crews to capture shots that wouldn't have been possible with camera-operated personnel, while still allowing crews to remain unobtrusive.
Is a true multimedia component converging on the worship market? How is the Internet being integrated into AV systems, and what can integrators expect in the future in terms of technologies, trends, and products?
Broadhead: The advantage of multimedia isn't just about what happens in the service anymore. Instead, it's what's on the plasmas in the lobby before and after service during the week. What's available on the Web? Who's blogging what? Is there an ability to support multi-language applications, events mid-week, support systems for meetings, local cable, etc.? While traditional AV concentrated on live events, multimedia expands the reach to anywhere, anytime.
MacDonald: Clearly, the use of video in churches demonstrates convergence in the HOW market. We believe that this is just the beginning. We see the early adopters in this market blazing forward using technology like podcasting and net-streaming to get the message out fast.
Scovill: As with all walks of life right now, the Internet is central to existence in many ways. The churches will be no different. It is not uncommon to have Wi-Fi available in the sanctuary, web streaming of services, podcasts, and on and on. It appears to be limited only by the demand of the attendees and the creativity of the staff. In my church on the administrative level, we currently make great use of the Internet with products such as [Digidesign's] DigiDelivery to move large media files to musicians, media creators, etc., via simple email. I look back on it — and, frankly, I don't know how we ever did it without it.
Lange: Multimedia and the Internet are a part of everyday life now, and people who work in technology will always find ways to utilize the latest advances to their advantage. Churches have the means, the desire, and the message to be out front on this. In terms of what integrators can expect, we at Aviom certainly believe that a trend toward high-speed, streaming audio transport over Cat-5 is upon us. More and more, integrators are tasked with moving a lot of audio channels from point to point or over a network. Doing it like we do — quickly, over inexpensive, easy-to-install wiring without losing fidelity — is appealing to contractors. Also, as makers of core technology like ASIC chips, we're always looking for new vehicles and technologies that move audio.
Five years down the road, what is the church technology market landscape going to look like, in your opinion? What are the best strategies integrators can begin to implement now to be ready for the future of this market?
Fustolo: With respect to technologies, the future will see further refinement of what we're enjoying now: smaller and lighter loudspeakers with even better performance in every phase of the game, expanded innovation in DSP, as well as more intuitive and comprehensive digital consoles, such as the new EAW UMX.96 that includes ample onboard loudspeaker processing, built-in SmaartLive measurement and analysis capabilities, and a simple user interface. Integrators by and large are doing a fantastic job, so they just need to keep it going. Take advantage of all of this new technology, figure out how it best applies to their customers, provide input to manufacturers for useful improvements, and above all, keep the focus on dedication to customer service, as well as education both for themselves and their customers. In this way, we all win.
Broadhead: Ease of use, interactivity, spontaneity, and reliability will remain critical threads regardless of what type of cutting-edge technology is deployed. It's important to never lose sight of the application and purpose of the church, and it is never about the technology. The best strategy is to keep the technology effectively transparent.
MacDonald: On the “big picture” side of things, the integration between audio, video, and presentation technology will be the standard — not the exception. The ability to provide low-cost streaming media to end-point consumers will be common. The why is simple — all media delivery thrives on low-cost, high-quality distribution mechanisms. Developing expertise in IT and network technology will be the foundation of all systems in the future. This will be a good thing, as it will allow the IT switch to be the center of the AV system.
Scovill: That's a pretty broad question, but I think if I had to guess, it would have to be smaller, yet more powerful. If that could include [being] much easier to use, I think it would make us all much happier and stress-free in the end.
Lange: Many churches are fast becoming multipurpose, multisystem facilities. In addition to being houses of worship, they are also community centers, offices, schools, and concert halls. So, the landscape for technology in this market is vast and growing. To be prepared, integrators must understand the special needs of churches and be sensitive to their place in the communities in which they live.