AVIXA’s AV And Digital Signage Forecast Looking Positive Coming Out Of COVID Era

The 16:9 PODCAST IS SPONSORED BY SCREENFEED – DIGITAL SIGNAGE CONTENT

The trade organization AVIXA invests a lot of time, resources and dollars into trying to get a handle on what’s going on in the audio-visual industry, and regularly publishes reports, briefs and even video explainers for members.

One of the big efforts is an annual industry overview, and the the most recent one provides a picture of industry that got kicked really hard in the shins in 2020 but appears to be coming out of it now.

Sean Wargo, AVIXA’s Senior Director of Market Intelligence, and economic analyst Peter Hansen kindly set some time aside to walk through some of the findings, and drill down a little more specifically into how digital signage was impacted in the last 18 months or so, and how things look going forward. 

The good news is things are already looking up, and the forecast is pretty darn sunny for AV and signage.

The cloud platform I use for recording had a bad hair day, so you will come across a little back and forth about who could hear who, and Peter’s audio eventually just disappeared on us from the file, so the episode is about five minutes shorter than normal as we nipped out the dead-silence and stitched it together. Things happen but it is still well worth a listen.

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TRANSCRIPT

Hi guys, thanks for joining me. AVIXA does a lot of research about what’s going on in the marketplace. You recently pushed out a big one. What’s that all about and what did you find? I know that’s a big question. 

Sean: Sure Dave, happy to be here. So we do an industry forecasting effort every year, that we refresh every year, we call it our Industry Outlook Trends Analysis (IOTA), Since we’re in the tech industry, we have to have acronyms, of course. But the idea is that we’re hoping to essentially provide guidance on the size and direction of all things proAV. We’ve drawn a pretty big definition for what that means, some more IT-sounding technologies are sometimes included. 

Long story short: the idea there is a revenue forecast that companies can use to see where the opportunities lie, challenges, etc. As you can imagine, particularly important as we come out of the pandemic and are looking towards recovery. 

Now, is that something that as an AVIXA member is expected, or is it a bonus part of membership? I don’t belong to a whole bunch of industry associations, so I don’t know if this is normal or something you just saw a hole and decided it needed to be filled. 

Sean: Yes, in the sense that most trade associations will do some sort of industry forecasting effort. AVIXA, formerly known as InfoComm, had studies that had been done through the years. We decided to do it a few years ago, it was to step up the game a little bit, go a bit deeper, broader with our analysis, and expand upon that forecasting effort. So we have a two-part offering to the marketplace.

There is a lot of that research that we will share with the membership, whether in the form of briefings, webinars, presentations that Peter and I will do out to the membership to help them understand the broader trends. But we also offer it as a paid offering. So dashboards, deep reports, forecasting notes, a whole bunch of additional deliverables that a company can buy into for those that are really needing to immerse themselves in data to make strategic decisions. So a little bit about a little bit of both. 

As somebody who spends all this time looking at this industry and writing about it, one of the challenges I’ve found is finding useful, relevant, trustworthy information about digital signage in particular, there are endless reports that you can see pop up on Google alerts, but they’re all coming out of India, and the handful of what I would call legitimate research companies that are taking a look at this space are also generally looking at other stuff. 

So there’s this real sort of absence of focused information about AV and particularly signage, at least it seems that way. 

Sean: Yeah, definitely true.

I think there are a lot of offerings out in the marketplace for market research about any given topic, especially if it has any currency, if there’s any buzz happening in the marketplaces about a certain issue, you’re going to find a lot of studies that you can subscribe to.

I think we wanted to approach it as an industry kind of insider, having the direct need for the information ourselves, we recognize that there was a gap, as you’re noting, for digital signage conference and collaboration, all the bits and parts of the industry just really weren’t well captured, measured, forecasted, etc. So it was part of why we stood up for this improved version of forecasts a few years back. 

Also because while you might find say bits of pieces of research on a certain segment. There’s not a lot available that tells you the complete package, the complete story of pro AV. We recognize though, as you’re noting by the lack of offerings in the marketplace, what that’s telling you is there’s not a lot of people that know a lot about the business. And so we also wanted to make sure we partnered with a company that has broad subject matter expertise, lots of analysts covering the underlying product categories, to provide that expert analyst commentary and input to crafting a forecast. So methodology and vetting of partners were really important to us as we built this out as well.

What’s the important stuff that companies should be paying attention to? 

I get asked every week by somebody, what’s the total bullet total addressable market for digital signage or for workplace digital signage or whatever it may be, and I also see endless presentations that assign a value to the overall digital signage marketplace, whether it’s North American or global, and I look at this big ass number and think, okay that’s an impressive number, but what does that mean and is it meaningful for a company? Or is it just a big number to impress people? 

Sean: That’s a great point, and I think, what you’re hinting at is that it’s a starting point. So what a lot of companies are looking for, let’s pick a manufacturer as an example. If you’re a display manufacturer, you’re wanting to see how big that total addressable market is, so you can calculate things like market share, you can plot your own growth forecast off of it, you can say, all right if the market’s growing 80% compound annual growth rate, we’re expecting better or worse based upon our specific situation. Maybe we can do better and get to 16 or 20. So it’s a starting point. It’s a reference point. 

What a lot of companies are looking for is that kind of reference point, whether it’s global, to a specific geographic area, to a specific product segment, to a particular market they’re serving. They need input and validation or a challenge to inside expectations. So that’s what we’re hoping and wanting to provide out there is that third-party view of a market situation. Understanding that in some cases that big fat global number that everybody likes to point out may not be useful to a very local company. But it can, when whittled down and segmented via some of the filters, can provide them a TAM number that they hey can then use inputs to craft their own forecast. 

Peter: Everyone disagrees about what a TAM of digital signage exactly means, and that’s where we like to help people get dashboard access.

So they can understand, “do I dip my toes into the content side?” You know, the server storage, transmission and that are billions of dollars there. Or, I’m really focused on exclusively the screens along with the infrastructure, mounts, and stands, et cetera.

And so you end up with these different numbers there and to some extent, we try to take a stance and say it’s a big market and an AV company, it can be working with all this, but also, we allow and encourage folks to dis-aggregate because we also don’t really want them to take a step where if they are doing digital signage, they have to do XYZ. Your business should fill whatever niche it thinks it’s best at, and that one number, as you say, can be a little ridiculous just to look at a single number from the perspective of most companies, because no company probably will fit exactly. “I only do North America for all parts, all every single product that goes into that number that is on the headline.” 

It must also be a challenge to draw a distinction around what is digital signage because I have seen no end of product pitches out there that have talked about collaboration displays as being digital signage and vice versa.

How do we wall this off? How do we say what digital signage is and then assign a value or a forecast? 

Sean: Yeah, that’s probably the most important step of the process of forecasting is your definition phase. How are you drawing a circle around that particular segment or the industry as a whole and as Peter mentioned we want to make sure that we’re including in our definitions a broad enough opportunity set.

Digital signage is a great example because I’ve seen digital signage forecasts that really are only the displays, and that’s it, as if digital signage was only a display on a wall, forget the mount for a second, forget the media servers and AV servers that are feeding the content to it, forget the networking backend that may have to be built out to support the content distribution. So there’s an ecosystem there that when we did our definitions phase, we purposely drew our circles a little bit larger, our definition is a bit broader to allow for a company to talk about, you know what, I’m in digital signage, but I’m going to serve this particular segment of it, this particular facet of it and that’ll be my opportunity area. 

An example for us in signages, we include a very big number for what we call media servers, and the reason is that as we all know, you put a display. We think of it as the hungry display now needs to be fed, it needs content, and so you need servers to basically aggregate, distribute, optimize that content out. So that’s a big area of spend within the signage category as a solution area. Soit’s the right question to be asking, as you’re looking at numbers is how do they define, and then of course, how do they measure, what assumptions are they making? What inputs do they gather? Those kinds of things to evaluate the research offering.

So we’re coming out of… I hope we’re coming out of a very rough 17 months or so and COVID-19 obviously had a pretty significant impact. I’m looking at a slide here that said 2020 was $214 billion in revenue for the AV industry globally. What had been the expectation for 2020 prior to the pandemic?

Sean: Sure. I think when we did our forecast in 2020, it was around when we started it in November of 2019 ‘cause that’s when you start your forecast process, you gather your input. So right around March, April was the time we’re looking at our numbers and saying, okay, here’s what we had thought would happen. Now we have the pandemic. What do we think is going to be the impact? As you’re sitting in May, which at that point, the assumptions we made is, maybe this is like many other viruses that have hit us where it’s one or two waves and then it goes out, and so possibly by the end of 2020, the situation is improving and that there are vaccines being distributed, that most of the waves are done, all that kind of stuff, and we expected a return to business. So we expected 2020 originally to be only about a -8% in terms of revenue decline. In the end, when you look at all the surveys we did through 2022 AV providers, manufacturers, distributors, the final analysis said it was more like -17%. So double the decline that we originally forecast, and that’s often what happens is you only know what you know at the time. You tend to be pessimistic or optimistic. I would say we were about the middle of the road. But we ended up providing that down. So the two 14 numbers that you’re looking at now is much less than it would have been in normal time, say normal trajectory, but there’s an upside to that too.

So because 2020 was worse, we seem to be in that recovery mode meaningfully. Now that. It looks like the trajectory coming out is even steeper. So you have bigger growth percentages in 2021, in 2022, and then it starts to level out by 2023 and 2024. So that we’re able to say by 2022, we think a good portion of the globe is starting to look like what it did in 2019 and exceeding those revenue peaks as we come out of this.

Is it deferred spending or that money that didn’t get spent in 2020 is lost, and this is a new budget? 

Sean: It’s a bit of deferred spend, certainly, but it’s also an adaptation. One of the big trends that we’ve highlighted in our reports is that the pandemic was a disruptor, not just because it shut down industries and economies, but also because it forced us to shift to remote everything, work, play, education, et cetera, and there are some lingering effects. I think we’re in an experimentation phase right now where we’re trying to see what does return to work look like. How hybrid is it? How virtual, how in person? 

So some of the spendings are an adaptation. It’s learning t, and now emphasizing and investing in new ways of interaction, new ways of engaging audiences and workers and students, et cetera. So there’s a bit of both, but I would also point to innovation. One of the things that disruption does is you start to think differently about the way you do business, and so new solution areas that we probably haven’t even fully thought of yet that kind of come out of this also is the mother of growth and an investment in our industry. But we look from a macro econ side. So Peter probably has some addition he can add to that in terms of how the economies and industries recovered too. 

One of the things that we cover, we have a strong macro econ section of our reports and one of the primary things that we look at is how is GDP expected to change, recover, et cetera, as we come out of the pandemic. And so, that has looked brighter and brighter. 2021 has a strong GDP estimate for us in many parts of the world. There are some challenging areas but we then benefit from that as that improves, we start to grow and improve as well. So I will look to that economic improvement as a kind of contributor and a driver of pro AV growth too. Not without challenges though.

When you set your filters for zeroing in on information, can you get a sense of the hit that happened overall for global AV in 2020? Can you drill down to the hit on digital signage? 

Peter: Yeah, so digital signage is actually one of the technologies that have been mostly closed to AV overall in the last year and this year, which I don’t think is that surprising. 

We talk about AV and how it pertains to the wider economy, we usually link it kinda at the start of our presentations, reports to GDP because it reflects the economy because AV is an in-person specific technology in general, thinking about live events, sports, museums, but it also has its collaboration side. And digital signage is a minor part of that, so big solutions that are used at stadiums, it’s part of branding in malls, etc. But it’s also part of the communication: a grocery store needs to communicate restrictions to its customers, a fast-casual restaurant has a platform to use maybe for point of purchase assist as well. So it suffered from the lack of in-person activity. But it’s also been supported in some areas because it’s such a flexible communication, a distanced, safe way to communicate to clients.

In the last year, it was a little bit over 15% drop and it’s recovering quite strongly this year about maybe 10-12% bounce back in 2021. So kind of following the overall industry numbers with those percentages. 

In terms of what’s happened in the past year. Obviously, a lot of it’s coming back. Some of it’s deferred money, some of it is new money, but when you take billions of dollars out of an industry, not everybody’s gonna be able to weather the storm and come back. Do you have any sense at all of what the impact was on the numbers of companies and jobs? 

Sean: Yeah. Good question. We did some survey research in 2020 to track this, to see how providers were being impacted along the way, and what we were seeing is, unfortunately, a steady, let’s say 1-2%, each week that was saying, I’ve had to close my doors for good. And so there was real attrition. 

What was the total? It’s really hard to tell because of things like stimulus and other modes of say, sustaining your business to where people may have gone into almost a hibernation mode or a sustenance mode just to keep things rolling, but it looked like in terms of attrition of individuals, so laying off riffing roofing employees, it was probably about an 8% decline in staffing over the firms that we’re tracking and were surveying throughout the process. So yeah, real impacts to real people and real businesses. 

One of the interesting things that I could see happening was companies, particularly live events companies, who obviously couldn’t do concerts or conferences or anything else. Some of them pivoted and started doing some interesting things like virtual audiences in sports arenas and things like that. 

Did you see much of that? And were these things short-term measures or did they turn into industries? 

Sean: Yeah, the jury’s a bit out in terms of how much that’s going to be a lasting impact, but those kinds of pivots or innovations, creative uses of their skills in technology and services is what allowed live events to not go to zero. So we saw a 60% decline in revenues for live events in 2020, just a dramatic horrific impact on that business. But I think they did shift over to things like content distribution, streaming services, capture, and optimization of content for then later streaming.

As you noted, they did support virtual events. In some cases, event managers would stand up on a store virtual studio and still would use some technology. I know, for example, AVIXA, to support some of our events, we would rent a green room in order to do some footage that we could then port over to put a virtual backdrop and all sorts of stuff for some of our creative presentations. But yeah, I think it’s that kind of innovation that helps these businesses to at least persist through the period. If not, in some cases, perhaps shut down temporarily in order to re-emerge as businesses re-emerged. 

Yeah, and some things like those extended reality virtual studios just came out of nowhere, but seemed to be a really hot trend now.

Sean: Yeah, definitely. I’m curious to see how much of that stays because what we’ve learned is that trade shows don’t work virtually. I think we’ve all tried that and replicated that booth to booth experience, the trade show floor experience just doesn’t happen very well on virtual. But a conference track does. So you can really imagine a world where let’s say a major trade show could wrap around its edges, some virtual content to hype up the show before it starts, continuing the long tail of content afterward to engage audiences, and so that gives a live events company opportunity on-premise, while the show’s going on, but a tale of opportunity around events too, to help capture and read and distribute content.

So I think there’s a number of interesting business models that could come out for a live events company around this kind of audience extension, content extension, content optimization, virtual studio, all that kind of things. It will be interesting to see. 

if you go back 15-16 months to March of last year and started to look at the industry and start to do some of these forecasts. Are there things that you expected to happen that didn’t happen and other things that did, that surprised you? 

Sean: Originally, we did not expect the conferencing and collaboration category to boom, quite as much as it ended up. So our original forecast around conference and collaboration, which in all fairness, largely was about conference rooms, auditoriums, in-person kinds of venues for office buildings. So we expected that industry, that market to decline a little bit, let’s say a few points, so not bad, and in an environment where most things are, double high or low double-digit declines, conference, and collaboration, that’s a pretty strong outcome. 

In the end though, we saw a flood of money going into it consistently through licensing, through kits for remote work support, all that kind of stuff just really made up for it. So the whole support of remote was an even bigger phenomenon than we originally had forecasted, probably partially because we did, as I noted before, we believed that there would be a return to more in-person stuff earlier in the process, late 2020, and by now we’d be pretty much fully back. So that would be one of those things that was a bit more pronounced than we had originally thought, and that’s a lot of what it was is not necessarily complete surprises, but more pronounced versions of things than you would’ve expected originally.

Okay. Thank you very much, guys. Just one last thing for Sean, just very quickly, if I’m listening to this and I want to have a look at the latest report or highlights of the report, where would I find that? 

Sean: Sure. Probably best to reach out to me, at [email protected] We have some resources on our website, avixa.org, but starting with me can point you in the right direction probably a bit more efficiently. 

Thanks again for taking some time with me.

Sean: Thanks so much, Dave.

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