Editor's Note: As part of S&VC's 20th anniversary, we are bringing you 20 Years Ago in the Industry, a retrospective glimpse of the industry and S&VC
Publish date:


Apr 1, 2003 12:00 PM

Editor's Note: As part of S&VC's 20th anniversary, we are bringing you “20 Years Ago in the Industry,” a retrospective glimpse of the industry and S&VC through the eyes of industry notables. This month S&VC spoke to Chad Gillenwater. He has more than 25 years of domestic and international business experience, and for the past ten years, he has been CEO and president of SPL Integrated Solutions of Columbia, Maryland.

Q: How has the industry changed in the past 20 years?

In the early '80s, there was a transformation in the performance A/V world. It was a change from industrial A/V in performance venues — no one really had high-end A/V — to an awareness of higher quality. There were essentially two groups: the group that provided primarily audio technology to high-end entertainers — like Clair Brothers, Showco, and MSI to some extent — and their boxes were considered the systems to use for entertainment. The other group was the sound and video contractor, who was primarily involved with industrial audio, Altec-type stuff, doing sound masking, paging speakers, projection screens, installing rooms that used collaborative technology, but in a primitive way compared with today. But when Disney was looking for ways to expand its entertainment value, it started seeing that the companies that were respected for really high-end performance were using systems that were proprietary to the companies that provided the sound reinforcement services at that time. Consultants of that era were also becoming more quality conscious, and there were the new guys who wanted rock 'n' roll — quality sound for installations. About this time, companies like EAW, which was really a leader in this change, started to provide boxes for installation that were recognized from their tour sound use. Through the '80s, there was a tremendous change; you had this respected technology that more and more people started to use, and you started to see a blending from rock 'n' roll companies to installation companies.

Q: What factors have caused the changes in the business?

The sound and video contractor world changed again around '96 to '97, when businesses began to understand that they could leverage the technology to make more money. They saw the advantage of using collaborative technology to get more productivity from people and resources. A lot of the changes are a result of changing demographics. For example, instead of one Top 40 as a centralizing force in pop music, there was access to and markets for many different styles of music. That changed the sound reinforcement business, though what we have seen is that venues are recognizing that the ability to provide high-quality sound reinforcement is key to the objectives of many facilities. Whether it be performing-arts centers, stadiums, casinos, theme parks, or religious institutions, the overriding goal was to deliver a high-end experience.

Q: Do you see convergence with the IT industry?

Because of the nature of IT companies, I don't see us being driven into that business. But connectivity is a real driver of the use of collaborative technology, and so I do have several people who are specialists in network technology, and their job is to marry the systems — to work with the Ciscos, the EDSs, and the IBMs to help merge the systems so that they work for the end-user. We have found that business customers really want someone like us to assist them as opposed to having a company that is driven by IT. The IT part of it in a specific project tends to be a lot larger and a lot more pervasive throughout the enterprise. On the other hand, we tend to be a smaller part, but we're so focused on what we do that we're able to deliver something that works, and historically, that is not something that has happened with IT companies. So I see a greater understanding of the IT technology by the sound and video contractors but not to the point of delivering IT.

Q: In what direction do you think the industry is heading?

One of the big recent changes has been the introduction of the public market into our industry. This has only really been within the past four to five years. A lot of companies have gone to the public market for capital, and that has caused many changes. There have been changes in the delivery of systems, the way vendors operate, and in the structure of companies, and I can't say that it's always been a positive thing. I'm very optimistic about the future of our business because the penetration is still so low. The value is so high, especially in commercial technology. There will be continued strong business in the performance world, specifically in religious venues but also in the entertainment world because of people's desire for high-end entertainment. As the technology roadblocks are broken down, the financial roadblocks will go away because the financial model is so strong. The promise has been there for ten years and has been generally unfulfilled. As we move toward a better product and better ways of communicating why this a productivity tool, the collaborative technology systems marketplace is going to be huge.

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