The world’s continuing fascination with new and better audiovisual (AV) technologies produced a blockbuster InfoComm International trade show this past June, with many companies focusing once again on the education market.

Products aimed at schools and colleges included an array of projection devices and software, interactive whiteboards, digital signage applications, digital monitors, and a variety of other AV equipment and software.

Held this year in Anaheim, InfoComm attracted a record 855 exhibitors–an 11-percent increase over last year’s total, organizers reported. Total attendance topped 31,600, also a record.

The industry’s dramatic expansion was underscored in the trade association’s newly released “2007 Market Definition and Strategy Study,” which noted that North America’s AV segment alone has grown to a $25 billion market. According to the study, which can be obtained online from InfoComm, the decision-making process for AV purchases overall “has radically changed over the last three years, with the IT department playing an increasingly important role.”

“The AV manager’s influence in the decision process remains strong in some customer verticals such as education,” the study concluded. “However, across the spectrum, the IT department has completely taken over the purchase decision process.”

Meanwhile, the study indicated that users’ expectations of the quality of AV products have been rising, a development that it attributed to the “convergence of AV and IT.”

IT departments have been “accustomed to very high standards, with rapid response rates during down time,” study said, “In the past, the AV industry has not had to meet such stringent standards, but customer expectations have changed. Now, AV solutions are mission-critical and subject to the same requirements as IT systems.”

Based on research conducted during a 12-week period from February to May, the study found that education, especially higher education, is among the AV industry’s three largest customer segments. The two other largest segments are government and corporate buyers. Meanwhile, all levels of education were described as being “the most price sensitive.”

In other education-related findings, the study made these observations:

  • The AV industry’s education customers “allocate the smallest percentage of their budgets” for AV services. Because such services are “mission-critical” for educational institutions, “they have developed in-house capabilities.”
  • The top four product opportunities for education are “projectors, sound reinforcement, control systems, and signal management.”
  • Even before the convergence of school AV and IT departments became prevalent, “education, government and corporate [segments] were already the largest consumers of consultant design services. Convergence has only magnified this.”
  • The education market “is attractive to consultants, because they dedicate a larger percentage of their budgets for consultant services.”
  • InfoComm said its trade show attracts about three-fourths of “the top U.S. colleges and universities,” and 96 percent of all attendees reportedly “recommend or make final purchasing decisions.”