ISE 2020 Roundup (Part 1 of 3)

May you live in interesting times.  Well, the last few weeks have certainly been interesting.

Planes.  Trains.  Taxis, Ubers, and Lyfts.  Coronavirus scares.  Storm Clara.  50 mile per hour winds.  Canceled flights.  Aborted landings.  The list goes on and on.

By my best count, this was my 9th or 10th ISE – a figure that pales in comparison to the 30+ InfoComm events I’ve personally attended.  According to show management, attendance was down more than 30,000 people (or 35%) this year compared to 2019, with many companies choosing not to attend at all, and others giving their people the choice to stay home.

As a result, many portions of the show floor had an eerie emptiness to them.  As one person I spoke with put it, “You could roll a bowling ball down the aisles and probably not hit a single person.”  I guess that says it all.  From our perspective, less people onsite made it easier for us to run between the halls to attend meetings, deliver presentations, and participate on panels.

Full disclosure – while we love Amsterdam, the layout of the RAI is far from ideal for this type of show.  That’s one thing we won’t miss when the event moves to Barcelona.

As always, our 4-days at ISE were packed.  Early to rise and late to bed.  And so it goes.  Unfortunately, we can’t possibly cover everything we saw and heard at the event.  The resulting note would be ridiculously long.  Instead, we’re covering only a handful of key items within this report.

Note to Vendors / Providers
We did our best to cover our discussions and your ISE-related announcements, but we’re not perfect.  Please let us know if we’ve made any errors.

Top-Level Theme = Business vs. Technology

Some of you have heard us say onstage that our industry (the AV, VC, UC, enterprise comms space) is in a business maturity not technology innovation phase.  By my estimation, that has been the case going on 2+ years.

Essentially this means that most of the recent “action” in the industry relates to business partnerships, business models, acquisitions, etc.

To be clear – this does not mean we aren’t seeing any technological improvement over time.  On the contrary.  Many vendors and providers are enhancing their offerings in real time.  However, for the most part the focus today is on shoring-up the current offering by tightening workflow, enhancing the UI, tightening integrations with other systems, etc.

Along the line of business maturity, here are a few business happenings worth noting.

AVI-SPL and Whitlock to Merge

On February 5th, the news finally went public that AVI-SPL and Whitlock had announced plans to merge.  That same day we released a research note (available free) covering this pending transaction.

In short, both companies will be held by LA-based Marlin Equity Partners, the deal is expected to close by the end of Q1 2020, the resulting company will have > 3,000 employees and should generate more than $1.3B / year in revenue.

No financials on this deal have been released, and even our friends-of-the-family wouldn’t give us any details.  And Marlin Partners (the investment firm behind this deal) already owned Whitlock, so that spend already happened.  However, our back-of-the-napkin calculation puts a value of $400 – $600M on AVI-SPL.  This, of course, is our best guess as non-financial analysts.

This is a pretty standard Darwinism play.  Survival of the fittest, or in this case, the fattest.  And it makes sense. Money will be saved. Sales, marketing, and technical teams will be expanded.  Leverage will kick in. Overhead will be streamlined. Business will happen.

So, we definitely give this deal a thumbs-up.

Crestron and Logitech Partnership

On February 10th (the first day of the ISE show), Crestron and Logitech announced a “meet in the market” partnership allowing the two companies to deliver what they refer to as, “a premier video conferencing, room control, scheduling and management experience for rooms of any size.” (see the Crestron Press Release for more details).

So what does this really mean?  It’s all about giving customers more choices for the types of systems they deploy in their small, medium, and large meeting rooms.

Thanks to this partnership, channel partners can now pair the Crestron Flex C series (video conferencing codec and control panel) with Logitech MeetUp, Rally, or Rally Plus solutions, and give their customers a vetted and integrated experience.  [ Note – it is the fact that channel partners are doing the pairing that makes this a “meet in the market” partnership ].

In addition, the companies have integrated Logitech’s management platform, Sync, with Crestron XiO Cloud.  As a result, customers can monitor and manage their Crestron and Logitech products within a common platform.

Details aside, we see this as a win/win partnership that gives each of these vendors additional reach into the marketplace, allows channel partners to better address user needs, and gives end-user customers the benefits of both of these anchor players.good.

Kudos to Crestron’s Randy Klein and Logitech’s Scott Wharton for putting aside the fact that they compete (slightly) in the market in favor of the greater good.

Bose and Sennheiser Product Bundle

While not quite a “partnership” per se, on February 11th, Bose Professional announced the Bose ES1 Ceiling Audio Solution.  This bundle includes the Sennheiser TeamConnect Ceiling 2 microphone and three Bose products; the ControlSpace EX-440C conferencing digital signal processor, the EdgeMax EM180 in-ceiling loudspeaker and the PowerSpace P2600A amplifier.

We first learned about this bundle the day before the ISE event during the Bose event held at the company’s office in Purmerend, NL.

Unfortunately, the press release is a bit vague on the details of this solution announcement, so here are the facts.  This announcement highlights that Bose and Sennheiser have vetted the use of their products together, and that the bundle will be certified for use with Microsoft Teams and other cloud services.  (Bose will be on record as the certifying vendor with Microsoft).

In other words – this is NOT a new product announcement.  And it is not a go-to-market partnership or joint venture of any kind.  Nor will this bundle be available on either the Bose or Sennheiser price lists.  And since both the Sennheiser TC2 microphone and the Bose ControlSpace DSP support Dante, no real integration or development work was required to make this work.  The vendors simply met in the middle by using the Dante standard.

The net is that channel partners can pair these solutions together and deliver to their customers a solution that has been tested and approved by both vendors.

Overall, we like this “joint vetting” (for lack of a better term) because like the Crestron / Logitech partnership described above, each party is doing what it does best.  Bose is all about audio processing and reinforcement, and Sennheiser is an anchor player in the microphone world.

This is the first post of a three-part series covering ISE.