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Out of the blue came the announcement, one which is certain to turn the professional AV industry on its ear – not to mention its largest trade show.

 

Extron Electronics of Anaheim, CA announced today that it will no longer exhibit at the annual InfoComm trade show, starting with this June’s event in Las Vegas. The significance of this announcement can’t be understated, as Extron has traditionally had one of the largest (if not the largest) booths at the show, and has been a regular exhibitor for over 25 years.

 

Did you even walk through the Projection Shoot-Out? Extron played a major role in launching and supporting it. Ever take classes in video signal interfacing? Chances are an Extron employee taught the class. Remember those wild Extron parties and battles of the bands from the 1990s? All history now.

 

Extron leaving InfoComm is on a par with Microsoft’s announcement that it was pulling out of the annual Consumer Electronics Show after this year’s running. The folks from Washington had an enormous booth that literally took up most of the front of the central hall. Now, it’s up for grabs in 2013.

 

Extron’s surprise headline came from none other than president Andrew Edwards, who started Extron in the early 1980s and has grown it into a multi-million-dollar business with over 2,000 employees and numerous offices around the world. According to his announcement (which you can read here), the company had a record year in 2011 and added over 400 new employees while also finishing two new buildings in Anaheim and North Carolina.

 

So if business is so good, why pull out from the industry’s biggest trade show; one with which Extron had become synonymous? Why withdraw in late February, when the first InfoComm 2012 show mailings have already gone out and the floor space is paid for? There’s obviously more than meets the eye here.

 

Competition could be one reason. After one particularly energetic Extron party I attended  in 1997 (when the company took over several floors of a hotel on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles), an fellow partygoer exclaimed, “That’s what you can do when you take thirty dollars worth of parts and sell them for three thousand dollars!”

 

That was then; this is now. The formula reads more like taking ten dollars of parts and selling them for a hundred dollars. Profit margins are tougher to come by, and there are lots of players with skin in the game, many of which came out of China and are relative unknowns here.

 

The transition to digital signal interfacing has taxed many of the major players. HDMI and DisplayPort are much more problematic to distribute and switch than analog signals. And again, there are numerous “who’s that” companies showing up at InfoComm, NAB, Cedia Expo, ISE, and other shows with HDMI/DP switching and routing equipment at lowball prices.

 

The ever-spiraling costs of trade shows could be another reason. Back in the day, it may have made perfect sense to spend $100K, $200K, $300K, and even more on a trade show booth when your average product had a retail price in the mid to high thousands of dollars. But that kind of expenditure is hard to justify with products that sell in the hundreds of dollars.

 

It’s also much easier to check out products online these days. If you need a commercial AV switcher, all you really need to dig up are the technical specifications. These big boxes pretty much all look alike, you know. And they aren’t exactly the sexiest things to place under a spotlight in Las Vegas.

 

Whatever the reason, Extron will not only part company with InfoComm USA, but also with Integrated Systems Europe (ISE), which has become a very important show for the European market. So far there’s been no announcement about the upcoming NAB show (perhaps it’s too late to back out) or other trade shows listed on Extron’s Web site.

 

The cost of staging a booth at a trade show is a topic of much concern to many manufacturers, in particular the Japanese electronics behemoths who are suffering through floods of red ink. But there’s been no suggestion that any of them will drop InfoComm from their calendars (except for Sanyo, which is likely gone as a brand after Panasonic finishes swallowing it up on March 31).

 

Here’s something to think about: If a company the size of Extron feels that there is no benefit to exhibiting at InfoComm anymore, will that prompt other mainstays to exit stage right? It could happen – recall how the Projection Shoot-Out fell apart after Sony first withdrew and then a flood of projector manufacturers followed suit over the next two years.

 

I know of a few long-time InfoComm exhibitors who are becoming quite concerned about the cost-to-benefit ratio of trade show exhibits and are wondering if there are other, less expensive ways to showcase their latest gadgets. (Can you remember the last time you saw JVC at InfoComm? It’s been several years.)

 

So Extron will pack up their tent and move on, leaving a big hole in the central hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center. And we’ll all be wondering: If Extron thinks it’s closing time, who’s next?

Posted by Pete Putman, February 28, 2012 10:31 PM

About Pete Putman

Peter Putman is the president of ROAM Consulting L.L.C. His company provides training, marketing communications, and product testing/development services to manufacturers, dealers, and end-users of displays, display interfaces, and related products.

Pete edits and publishes HDTVexpert.com, a Web blog focused on digital TV, HDTV, and display technologies. He is also a columnist for Pro AV magazine, the leading trade publication for commercial AV systems integrators.