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Keeping the Economic Faith: Houses of Worship Roundtable

Oct 9, 2009 12:00 PM, By Dan Daley

Six industry experts weigh in on the current and future HOW market.

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As more digital technology comes into HOW facilities, the learning curve is ramping up, especially for HD video and digital audio consoles and routers. Is the tech talent base keeping sufficiently? Is it still mostly volunteers or do you see more professionals being hired to run these systems?

Westra: The talent base is not keeping up. Most operators learn just enough of the language to be dangerous and show no interest in developing further. They see the hardware as toys to play with and not tools to advance the ministries. Digital consoles make this problem worse, not better. Volunteers still dominate, although there are a few more dedicated staff being hired. Unfortunately, a high percentage of added staff are computer specialists that know a modest amount about video and almost nothing about audio.

Carlson: We `see very few full-time hires, but it’s more philosophical than economical. Churches in general view running AV as the same as serving as an usher or greeter—a position to be staffed by a volunteer. Some churches have realized that they need to at least have a trained person supervise technical operations, but otherwise, the situation’s not really changing.

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Budd: We see professionals hired in only the largest churches. Most are still trying to use volunteers. This is a major challenge for us and often causes us to recommend simpler systems.

Clayton: We find a hands-free sound system design is usually appropriate for our traditional worship space clients, and our preference is to implement automatic microphone mixing, zoned AGC dynamics, matrix routing, and loudspeaker signal processing in a single DSP system. Even modest projects can have rather complex audio signal flow layouts, but day-to-day user control is intentionally kept to a minimum. Perhaps the most difficult task is explaining to the client a) how much the system is doing inside its black box, b) how much more it could do for them in the future, and c) why it will be so expensive for us to come back and update it for them.

Dempsey: This is a big issue with HOW clients. We assess our client’s technical abilities and recommend solutions solely based on their abilities. It makes no sense for a HOW to purchase systems that are far advanced beyond their technical capabilities. We do not see more professionals being hired typically except in the mega facilities. Most are using the talent they already have and training them.

The recession will likely be declared over sometime around the end of this year, but recovery is expected to be slow. Based on your experiences during the recession and the boom in HOW technology systems that preceded it, what do you think the landscape for technology in HOWs will look like three years from now?

Carlson: It’s like the stock market—no one knows where the real bottom is, so a lot of people are holding back on spending. But there will always be some who are willing to make a move. We just signed a contract on a $600,000 AV upgrade. But price pressure is coming from another area: We’re seeing fire alarm and background music installation companies coming into the church market as their own sectors slack off. That’s affecting the pricing dynamic.

Budd: We have been seeing a lot of requests for pricing on wish lists. This indicates that there is a pent-up demand that will need to be satisfied at some point over the next three years. The issue will always be the capability of the tech talent to use the equipment, so we see technology that simplifies as likely to be the more successful in our marketplace.

Clayton: I don’t see a big change for my company lurking around the other side of the recession. Generally speaking, we are not waiting for introduction of the latest high-channel-count, feature-laden, digital mixing surface so that we can move on to the next technology level. We are looking forward, however, to any new digital audio technology that might be adapted and incorporated into our system designs for the benefit of our clients.

Dempsey: Technology will continue to develop and become more powerful for less. Just like cell phones and computers, technology capabilities and cost always get to a point where it makes sense to have it. I expect wireless technologies to advance in the HOW markets. All that being said, I think we will see more thinking along the lines of, “Is this good enough?”

Thrasher: I don’t see any big change either. It’s a conservative sector to start with, and the recession has made it more so. They’ll stay hunkered down until they can see clearly that things are getting better.

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