Change Remains Constant in AV Production
EPN AV Trends Photo 2023 CEAVCO
By Eric Newkirk
Meeting planners need to speak the right language to get the most cost-effective outcome for their audiovisual (AV) needs in the rest of 2023.
Remember how often words like “hybrid” and “virtual” were used in the last three years? Those types of events are still around, but there is a new term.
“Digital” is the buzzword that aligns with the broader marketing and advertising side of the events industry. And that’s important because sponsors understand digital events and sign up to support organizations that have strategies that combine in-person events with digital experiences.
With inflation sapping budgets from room rates to food and beverage, meeting planners must find cost-savings wherever possible.
That’s why they are also leaning on their AV partners to manage their digital networks during events. Alternatively, value-oriented approaches to connectivity and bandwidth, compared to convenience purchases, are cutting costs for meeting planners every day.
Changes are happening in event production. Here’s how to keep up.
Use ‘Video Legos’ to Recoup Equipment Costs
LED flat-screens have replaced projectors as the top event technology for tech-forward meeting planners.
High-resolution LED screens offer brightness in any situation. For example, meeting planners don’t have to worry about ambient light on the tradeshow floor. In addition, you can use LED screens like monitors. Event organizers can build things with “video Legos” where images wrap around corners in tradeshow booths.
For meetings, LED screens are great because you can do banner-size and different layouts. There is no concern about where to position the projector—or whether people will be walking in front of the projector.
In ballrooms, meeting planners won’t want to give up space for rear projection. In the past, they would typically do front projection from a high tower and long lens in front of the room. But today, they use LED screens and save the space.
Traditional projection screens remain the most cost-effective coverage option, but LED screens can help recoup the additional 25%-50% cost with savings in square-footage and equipment.
“If you can get one less salon in a ballroom and one less screen over the speaker panel, LEDs can save you money in several areas,” said Jeff Studley, president of CPR MultiMedia Solutions in Gaithersburg, Maryland. “LED screens are giving meeting planners more flexibility from design to pricing.”
[Related: How ChatGPT Will Impact the Meetings and Events Industry]
Mobilize AV Teams to Trim Facility Costs
Facilities are stacking events to keep up with demand, which means the time spent on setup and prep for events has been dramatically reduced.
Brandon Borgus of CMI AV in Rochester, New York, said meeting planners are now interested in growing their events in 2023, but they are constrained by contracts that won’t budge on in/out times. Before the pandemic, he said his AV teams would have two days—that’s 40 hours of straight build time—to set up stages, trusses and lighting in addition to flying LED walls to the location.
Today, the AV teams have 18 hours overnight to get the job done.
To mitigate, Borgus suggests that meeting planners include their AV teams early in the discussion with the venue so each party understands the required logistics. His teams also help meeting planners negotiate the AV components of their contracts, reviewing verbiage that is most beneficial for a successful meeting.
“Meeting planners need to bring in their AV partners early on in the process with facilities, so AV isn’t an afterthought,” Borgus said. “We’ve helped meeting planners avoid 50%-60% increases by being present at the table.”
Adjust Your Comfort Level
The meetings industry is back in full-force. In-person events are normal again.
Kevin Beabout of Ironman Sound Industries in Maplewood, Missouri, said the company hasn’t done a virtual event in about 12 months. “I don’t see any signs of it backing off in 2023,” he said.
But he noted one change: Meeting planners have developed a new level of comfort with hybrid events. While they have dwindled since live events made a comeback, hybrid events haven’t gone away completely. (Meeting planners are also more comfortable with pandemic favorites like pre-recorded guest speakers and virtual presentations mixed into a live event.)
Before the pandemic, there was a lot of hesitation about hybrid, but that hesitation has disappeared. “It’s not a big scary monster anymore,” said Beabout regarding hybrid events that remain more popular today than in 2019.
Meeting planners may cut back on some lighting and flair to stay within budget, but in some cases, the hybrid event remains worthy of budget dollars as a new tool in the industry.
[Related: How the Onsite AV Landscape Has Changed as In-Person Meetings Resume]
Incorporate More Digital Surfaces
Meeting planners are using more digital surfaces to cut their carbon footprint.
Leveraging LED walls, projection surfaces and monitor displays can reduce waste from pre-built or printed elements for each show to satisfy an organization’s growing environmental, sustainability and governance concerns.
More meeting planners are using digital templates from their AV partners, which removes the need for quality artists to design for non-standard displays.
“This tactic also opens the doors to create click-of-the-button room and scenic changes,” said Jack De Vries of Showcore in Eagan, Minnesota, “which increases labor efficiencies and keeps you within the budget despite inflation.”
(Eric Newkirk is president of Event Production Network as well vice president of design and creative at CEAVCO Audio Visual, an AVFX company, in Wheat Ridge, Colorado.)