The first time I heard the word convergence being applied to what I do, it was in regard to information technology (IT) being used to manage the operation of and deliver content to installed audiovisual (AV) systems. In its simplest form, the convergence of AV/IT (or is it IT/AV?) meant sharing wires. More importantly, it meant two silos of human knowledge agreeing on a lot of important issues like protocols, bandwidth, and control. Live events are a lot more complicated than meeting rooms. When we talk about convergence in the show world, no one is really sure how far it will take us. Technology, people, and philosophies are all under pressure to converge in one way or another. With so much at stake, we need to pay attention to how our companies deal with these challenges. As an industry, we need to make sure our traditions don't get in the way of progress.
Today, Convergence (with a capital “C”) has become a distraction within the theatre, audiovisual, and concert/entertainment worlds. The shared space between lighting and video is poised to become a battleground. Concert audio is competing with corporate AV, and everyone is trying to capitalize on LED technology. In the process, production designers find themselves working on a wide variety of projects with technology providers they never knew existed. It is not that unusual to find a lighting designer with Broadway credits lighting a car show designed and constructed by an exhibit builder with rental equipment provided by an AV company. More than we'd like to admit, economics often force us into even more diverse partnerships. What is the world coming to?
We can't stop change, but we can engineer a smoother ride. A lot of the bumps seem to revolve around the negative connotation of the word convergence. It is a perfectly good description of what has been happening — “the merging of groups that were originally opposed or very different” — but it just doesn't sit right with most folks. I think I have figured out what's wrong. Convergence implies that something or someone is forcing those groups together toward an inevitable collision, like the one that often happens when two departments are forced to interact, and no one is sure where responsibility begins and ends. If convergence is inevitable, then we need more than a better word. We need a better concept. Enter Unification. Think about events that have been very successful in your career — the feeling you had as they evolved; the high everyone experienced during the performance; the emotion you felt when the show was over. You weren't converged; you were unified. It was all about the show. Unification is about things coming together. It is evolution rather than revolution. There is hope in unity.
Unification has to be more than a word; we need to be able to see it. There are three basic priorities when producing a live event: design, technology, and approach. These are the measurable qualities of unification. With all apologies to those who are offended by characterization, our industry is comprised of either theatre, concert, or audio visual originated businesses. The theatre world has traditionally put the art first. It is design driven. While the concert business is decidedly technological, its primary emphasis is on the approach — the process of staging large events. AV is all about technology. Through years of evolution, each type of business has embraced ever-larger amounts of the other two elements, creating a small but growing shared space of unified production. Theatre adopts new approaches, entertainment uses more technology, and corporate events embrace design. The challenge is what happens when you put theatre, concert, and AV elements into one show. If you throw a bunch of artists, roadies, and geeks together, you just might end up with a lot of conflict. An event can only be as unified as the players who are converging. As an AV person, I can say this: we are the least unified discipline in the presentation industry. Let me show you why.
If we look at design, technology, and approach as quantities a company can possess, then the amount of overlap — their shared space — signifies that firm's level of internal unification. AV folks are basically geeks, so we use charts to understand things better. The typical AV Unification chart (Figure 1) is pretty lopsided, with just a big technology sphere and a small and only slightly overlapping approach sphere. The design element is not a major influence. Concert (Figure 2) and theatre (Figure 3) entities are decidedly more unified, with larger secondary elements and more shared space. This describes the companies or people involved in a live event, but to reflect the event itself, you need to go three-dimensional. The unified company (Figure 4) has equal helpings of design, technology, and approach, but a unified event needs well-balanced players in all positions.
So why is this important to the readers of Live Design? AV companies are an important piece of this puzzle, which is precisely why we are part of the new Live Design magazine format. We have an opportunity to share space with centuries of show business tradition provided by our theatre colleagues. Concert staging can teach us a lot about how to consistently package and move vast quantities of gear. They are also very good at adapting new technology and pushing its limits. If we can learn from them, then maybe we can teach something about image quality and signal integrity.
Unification will happen, and when it does, everyone wins. The unprepared will find themselves coping with convergence instead…and some may not survive the impact. In practical terms, this means that we AV folks need to work our way into the creative design process and hone our approach to staging, while we continue to apply new technologies to our craft. As you increase the amount of your unified space — design, technology, and approach — you will find it easier to work with other unified companies. You can learn a lot from these people and maybe even teach a thing or two. If nothing else, you can at least call what we are experiencing something other than the C-word.
Tom Stimson, MBA is director of sales and operations at Alford Media Services in Dallas, TX. He has over 25 years experience in corporate theatre and is a member of the InfoComm International Board of Governors and the ETCP Certification Council. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.