As an industry, the CI sector is only scratching the surface with custom installations in high-end homes, which have the potential to go far beyond home theatre and automation. In this piece, CE Pro Europe takes a closer look at the salubrious architecture and art sectors that are well within the CI industry’s grasp as tangible sources of revenue. Home theatre projector heavyweight, Barco Residential lifts the lid on its new offering for the CI industry and its implications for the wider market, while CEDIA CEO Vin Bruno and top UK integration companies, Cornflake, Ideaworks and Philharmonic AV weigh in on the issue.
Barco Residential has been making a real push towards unlocking the potential the architectural and homebuilder markets hold for a number of years, and is currently working closely with CEDIA and NIIO (a leading distribution platform for high quality media art) in order to educate the market on New Media Art.
“CEDIA members are uniquely positioned to deliver technology solutions to the architectural, art and homebuilder markets,” states Vin. “Homeowners demand technology in their living spaces, and the perception that technology will disrupt design is an old mindset that is being abandoned. CEDIA has worked diligently to forge relationships with our industry partner markets. We saw wonderful success hosting the CEDIA Smart Home Pavilion at Design and Construction Week 2017, which is the co-location of the International Builders’ Show (IBS) and the National Kitchen and Bath Industry Show (KBIS). Continuing to form collaborative relationships with our industry partners will not only help our industry grow but will also ensure that our homeowner clients have the best possible experience with the technology in their home.”
Vin acknowledges that the emerging ‘new media art’ market is yet another opportunity for CEDIA members to diversify their offerings. “There is a demand, and CEDIA members have the skillset to bring the vision of the artist to life,” he nods. “Just like some home technology professionals specialise in home theatres, I believe we will have home technology professionals who will specialise in the digital art segment.”
“Homeowners demand technology in their living spaces, and the perception that technology will disrupt design is an old mindset that is being abandoned” – Vin Bruno, CEDIA CEO
One such manufacturer making inroads here is Barco Residential, which wowed attendees at this year’s ISE with a custom built New Media Art Wall featuring works by artists Ronen Sharabani, Refik Anadol and Jonathan Monaghan from Bitforms Gallery. In addition, Barco’s Ultimate Media Solution was used to show a range of different sources that could be manipulated through an intuitive user interface for a variety of entertainment or home office applications, at times also reverting to being one large digital canvas displaying original New Media Art – a new application Barco Residential is bringing to the market with partner, NIIO.
Simply put, Barco Residential and NIIO have been pushing New Media Art as an opportunity for the custom install industry, which Barco’s Tim Sinnaeve says received “high praise” from key custom integrators and industry professionals at the recent CEDIA Business X-Change in San Antonio.
What Exactly Is New Media Art?
What indeed. While there is no universal definition of ‘New Media Art,’ it refers to artwork created with new media technologies, including digital art, computer graphics, computer animation, virtual art and 3D printed sculptures.
“Just to be clear, we are talking about original art here, not digital representations of classic paintings,” Tim clarifies. “A 2016 study by Art Economics puts the value of the global art market at 63.8Bn$,” he continues. “Works valued at 1M$ represent 57% of that value, but less than a per cent of the transactions. With 38.1M transactions we are of course still talking about a very large number of transactions. Within that, Barco Residential and NIIO believe that New Media Art has a bright future. As technology progresses, a growing number of artists are expected to embrace the concept.”
Tim states that museums and collectors alike are showing increased interest – some museums are even appointing curators dedicated to New Media Art – and expects that a growing number of young artists will embrace these art forms.
This all points to a great opportunity in New Media Art, but where does the custom integration industry fit in? Barco Residential and NIIO are confident that it represents a dual business opportunity for the industry.
“On the one hand, the unique opportunities and challenges New Media Art offers are a great match with the skillset of the custom integrator,” says Tim. “Buying New Media Art is more complex than buying a painting or sculpture. You could be getting a hard drive or computer and a certificate. Then there’s exhibiting the work. You need to invest to display it properly, with hidden costs financially, plus time and effort. Today, artists are often limited to flat panels in one aspect ratio in a number of standard sizes, with quality being an issue given that it is meant to be presented ‘as the artist intended’. Finally, preservation is also a challenge. How do you manage technological obsolescence, for example?”
New Media Art is an opportunity to connect at a different level with the high net worth market the custom integration industry could be targeting, as well as the architectural and interior design industries. Barco Residential together with its partners has been pushing a more holistic experience focus for the industry, and feels that New Media Art is not something entirely different, but rather, another aspect of that.
“The custom integration industry has struggled to address the full potential of the industry,” Tim admits. “Global wealth has been studied much more extensively in recent times, and the numbers researched by companies such as Credit Suisse and Wealth-X point to the fact that the industry clearly is not addressing this huge potential revenue stream.”
Barco Residential feels that one of the main challenges has been that the industry has traditionally had more of a technology and product focus, rather than an experience focus, and due to that has struggled to connect with the architectural and design community.
“Most often the CI angle comes in when most of the important decisions in a project have already been made, and people are just looking for quotes from technology integrators,” Tim observes.
“New Media Art provides a great opportunity to start to change that. Art is a major focal point for ultra high net individuals, with more investment being directed toward art than towards luxury cars, for example. Major art events like Art Basel in Switzerland and Miami both feature in the top 10 events that attract private jet travel – another popular indicator.”
“New Media Art is an exceptional way to kick-start that revolution and represents not only a business opportunity in itself, but also a way to reach many more high net worth individual customers, while enhancing all other aspects of our business as well” – Tim Sinnaeve, Barco Residential
So what is the value proposition Barco Residential and NIIO feel they can offer the custom integration industry?
“Barco Residential and NIIO offer the ability to create custom architectural digital canvases using a variety of the highest quality display and projection technologies, integrated with a cloud-based platform to manage, distribute and display moving image and new digital art forms,” answers Tim. “Barco Residential is uniquely positioned for this and there is an amazing potential for the industry here to get in front of these types of target clients by making integrators more art-savvy. If we could do this on a larger scale, this could change the industry!”
Keeping up its side of the partnership, NIIO provides a comprehensive cloud-based platform for artists, galleries, collection owners and curators to store, manage and securely distribute multi-format moving images and digital artworks, ranging from 4K video art, to VR. These tools are available for free through a proprietary cloud-based platform and include a collection management tool, robust distribution hub and a 4K ArtPlayer that can turn any screen or projector into a dedicated, continuous art installation.
“There is the opportunity to upsell on existing installations, yes, but the bigger vision is a new category of visual installs within homes,” adds Rob Anders, NIIO co-founder. “With New Media Art, walls become digital canvases, which is so much more than just offering a better home theatre experience – and it will also ultimately support the entire ecosystem. With more ‘canvases’ in the home, the artists will create more and more to be experienced there; ultimately content is king.
“By replacing a feature wall with a ‘living wall’ that can deliver immersive, changeable experiences connects home-owners to an ever-growing collection of video and media art from a global network of artists, galleries and museums – the opportunities are endless” – Rob Anders, NIIO co-founder
“Our homes, from a design perspective, are largely static,” he continues. “They are renovated beautifully and then often stay the same for long periods of time. By replacing a nice, well-designed feature wall with a ‘living wall’ that can deliver immersive, changeable experiences connects home-owners to an ever-growing collection of video and media art from a global network of artists, galleries and museums – the opportunities are endless. Even more so when this becomes part of the connected smart home ecosystem whereby voice activation or perhaps your own personal state of emotional wellbeing will directly change the walls.”
“For the artist, the ability to use any shape or size digital canvas to create their art offers nothing less than artistic freedom, the value of which cannot be overestimated,” Tim concurs.
“It becomes very different when the art itself is digitally experienced and thus is dependant on the core competencies of installers: display technology, cabling, playback and control systems,” Tim considers. “And again, because it’s digital art, there is greater desire for collaboration between the architects/designers, as this is a true convergence of their respective skillsets; their joint efforts will truly deliver the unique immersive experience that is sought.
“Since Barco Residential has become more involved with New Media Art, the architectural and design worlds are becoming interested and are also starting to reach out proactively to learn more about how we can collaborate closer,” Tim points out. “It quickly becomes obvious to private collectors, galleries and artists alike that having a technology-savvy partner that can manage all of these aspects, with a unique understanding of the New Media Art world and its opportunities and challenges, is very valuable. And this role is not being fulfilled today, creating a great opportunity for the CEDIA channel.”
So what’s next for integrators that want to take advantage of this opportunity? Barco Residential and NIIO are currently discussing this opportunity with key custom integrators that are ready to drive this initiative forward. At the same time, Barco is working with professional associations like CEDIA to create educational programmes for interested CEDIA members, as well as working with leading New Media Art galleries and artists, which should in turn generate customer awareness and industry interest.
Barco Residential is confident that its offering with NIIO can help take the CI industry to a whole new level, effectively becoming a ‘curator of experiences,’ rather than simply a provider of technology products and services.
“New Media Art is an exceptional way to kick-start that revolution and represents not only a business opportunity in itself, but also a way to reach many more high net worth individual customers, while enhancing all other aspects of our business as well.”
Interestingly, Barco Residential and NIIO are looking into creating a qualification for installers who are ‘art savvy’.
“We are working with a select group of high end integrators to create a qualification that will provide a quality guarantee the art world will be able to rely on when looking for a technology partner, thereby creating differentiation and additional opportunities for integrators that obtain that qualification,” Tim reveals.
Looking back to when Barco Residential decided to enter the high-end residential market, the company looked at estimates as to what level of business the industry was generating, but was more interested in what the ultimate potential for this industry could be.
“We felt this was best defined by looking at the number of ultra high net worth individuals, and found that the number of individuals falling within that group – which should be our target – offered a vast opportunity compared to the level of business that was being generated. We also felt that that opportunity should go far beyond home theatre, since the modern high-end home enabled by the pinnacle of today’s technology offers so many opportunities to create digital canvases for a wide range of applications and experiences, of which home theatre is only one.”
AV Integration Companies Are Key
It’s all very well having a manufacturer like Barco Residential and an organisation like CEDIA behind the CI industry’s migration into the art and architectural sectors, but the support of the custom integration industry is critical.
“Exactly,” says Phillip Hine, design director at UK high-end integration specialist, Cornflake, which has been involved in the architectural sector for over 15 years, largely due to the profile and aesthetic interests of its discerning clients.
“To be honest, early customers probably drove us to provide a service but, more recently, we’ve become far more confident at proactively suggesting custom projects. In fact, in 2012 we opened our London showroom with one room purely dedicated to glazing, including specialist solutions for art collectors.
“Many of our customers have serious art collections that they want to enjoy, so we work closely with their curators to ensure important pieces are lit to their best advantage and are safe and secure. Whenever we’re cabling a property, or installing CCTV, it makes sense to consider all the detailing and include circuits for any art at the same time. It’s a great fit with the traditional AV offering.”
Another London-based high end AV integration company that recognises the huge potential that lies within the architecture, art and home builder sectors is Ideaworks. “We work jointly with a number of creative art teams who each have a speciality in a particular sector,” Kevin Andrews, Ideaworks founder tells EI. “They do the creative programming side and we do the technical realisation. But generally it starts with a joint discussion with the client and all parties about what they are trying to convey by commissioning something. In some cases, there is a commercial message like in a marketing suite, or it could be a private client wanting to break the mould and create something unique. Really it’s generally a blend of A/V, lighting and interaction that gets the best outcomes. AV is just one tool.”
“We find that our best relationships are with architects and interior designers, as we can build a proper relationship based around helping each other and developing trust,” interjects Phil Turner, owner of top AV integration company, Philharmonic Audio Visual Ltd.
“The thing that makes these sectors the hardest to crack is the ‘stickiness’ of relationships. An architect or interior designer will often stick with something that they are not fully happy with rather than risk starting a relationship with someone completely new and it is difficult to demonstrate how you, as an AV company, can be different without actually working on a project with them.”
“Digital art is simply not on anybody’s shopping list. If you want to sell and install it, you have to start by inspiring people to want it” – Kevin Andrews, Ideaworks founder
“I think that the phrase ‘custom integration’ is probably an over-used term,” says Kevin. “Much of what passes for the work of a ‘custom’ integrator is no more than the assembly of standard parts installed in a standard way. I think if you are a creative team that can bring creative input and inspire through showing what’s possible, then the demand exists for interactive video and lighting installations that react to the people who view it.”
Phillip is of the opinion that having a good lighting expert on an AV company’s team is paramount for an organisation keen to go down the art / architecture route.
“A knowledgeable lighting designer will listen to client’s ideas and deliver exceptional results that go far beyond a traditional designer’s remit,” he nods. “We often get asked to advise on placement and how the art will fit in a certain space; plus the optimum way to light it to create the most evocative experience and, importantly, what will do justice to the often eye-watering investment. The client’s home might be a contemporary loft or stately home so it’s important to employ designers with good depth and breadth of design knowledge, plus it really helps if they are well read about the collecting market and are interested in art generally. Our lighting team spends hours locked in with the interior designer and/or architect, so they really must know their onions.”
Phillip brings up the excellent point that ‘art’ can mean different things to different people (Tracey Emin’s ‘My Bed’, anyone?). For instance, Cornflake is currently assisting a client to build a gallery for his 17 supercars, which includes a media room bar in the centre, encapsulated by floor-to-ceiling Ferrari-red glazing – rather like a large glazed box within the room with the cars lined up around the edges.
At the press of a button, one of the cars will appear as the privacy glass clears. There is the option to showcase one, two or all the cars if the client wishes. Spotlights will carefully light each vehicle and Cornflake will back-project onto the glass a technical spec for the respective supercar/s. “Are supercars art?” Philip asks. “If a discerning client thinks so, we’re not going to argue!”
One hurdling block is that customers will not necessarily ask for digital art or interactive art; “It is simply not on anybody’s shopping list,” Kevin states. “If you want to sell and install it, you have to start by inspiring people to want it. We constantly show what’s possible at our Experience Centre to create interest: our entire shop front is reactive to people passing by. Those triggers are used at different times to trigger different reactions; sometimes video, sometimes light; always unexpected.”
Phil and Phillip are in agreement that a way to see more growth within these industries is to create impressive documentation to backup the processes and to establish a reputation for being an expert in the sector; as a result enjoying repeat business and valuable personal recommendations.
CE Pro Europe asks why continuing to work with these wider markets will become vital in order to propel the custom install business in future.
“We have seen several notable custom integration companies fail in the last six months; I think we will see many more,” Kevin answers. “Installing off the shelf technology in homes is a shrinking iceberg in terms of what custom integration has become used to. It depends on what your motivations are for being in this business. Ideaworks’ motivation has always been to look at technology in any area and see how we can make it engaging, interesting and pleasurable. Right now, one of those is by creating experiences using all the latest technology we can to surprise and please people. If the motivation for a company is to sell as much tech as possible into someone’s home and not take pleasure from it, then those businesses may disappear. I don’t think they will naturally migrate back to a more ‘custom’ approach, because that’s not where they came from.”
Kevin feels that AV companies need to challenge their business models by providing design, inspiration and value through their creative skills to take new and emerging technology and building installations which genuinely entertain, with Phil agreeing that partnering with professionals is important for long term sustainable business.
“Art collecting is a popular and growing lifestyle choice for many clients, and CI is a natural bedfellow,” adds Phillip. “There are other similar niche sectors where we have witnessed a growing demand for CI solutions. Wine collecting, for instance, often involves highly sophisticated kit that we can help to control and manage, such as humidor thermostats, lighting, sealed cabinets and even cataloguing. I can’t actually think of any homes in London that we’ve wired in the last few years that haven’t had a wine cave, cellar or purpose-built rack.
“One client has a long row of garages that are functional but quite ugly,” Phillip recalls. “They didn’t like overlooking them so we suggested projecting a continuous image of a gushing waterfall to make the outbuildings disappear and create an optical illusion that completely changes the outlook.”
Phillip witnessed Barco Residential and NIIO’s New Media Art for himself at ISE, describing it as an interesting concept that Cornflake is keen to explore. “We expect it will appeal to several of our clients. We will probably try it out in our showroom first, following our very strict policy of offering leading edge as opposed to bleeding edge solutions.”
Cornflake is very much of the opinion that the worlds of architecture and art should be fully embraced by the CI industry in order to propel it further. “Be brave and think outside of the box to amaze clients, after all, the sky’s the limit!” Phillip enthuses. “We are living in hugely exciting times; technology is mainstream for millennials. Really, who can live without it? And, as we know, prices always fall as new technology is widely adopted so that it eventually filters down to all our homes. It’s a big cake, so grab a slice.”