Reflecting on CEDIA Expo: An Event That Never Fails to Surprise

Despite a smaller turnout, CEDIA Expo 2021 was a welcome return to in-person events as industry vets reconnected after a long absence.

Giles Sutton
Reflecting on CEDIA Expo: An Event That Never Fails to Surprise

I should have learned by now to expect the unexpected at CEDIA Expo, but the show never fails to surprise me. This year’s bombshell?

It was fun.

Normally, that wouldn’t be a revelation. CEDIA Expo has always been a celebratory gathering of colleagues and friends, as much about forging and renewing personal ties as discovering new technologies. This year, though, I didn’t anticipate that same atmosphere – at least, not in the final weeks before the show.

Let me be frank: It was very painful to watch the snowball effect as exhibitors withdrew, attendees became more uncomfortable traveling, and large networking events were cancelled or redesigned for health, safety, and a significantly smaller crowd. We’d been without a full-scale in-person show for so long. In May and June, as vaccination rates ticked up and state after state rolled back COVID-19 restrictions, the return of a raucous CEDIA Expo felt like a sure thing, and in late August, it seemed like it was all just falling apart.

After a dispiriting two weeks, I was mentally prepared for a gloomy show. I didn’t get one. Yes, the show was smaller than pre-pandemic Expos, but the interactions were rich. Emerald reported that over 40 percent of the 1400 attendees were the leaders of their organizations: presidents, owners, partners, and CEOs. That gravitas was in evidence, as was the strength of the current market for AV solutions. Everyone I spoke with told me they were having longer, more fruitful conversations and discovering new technologies and partners.

CEDIA Expo 2021 Highlight Opportunities in Lighting, Wellness

It’s hard not to smile while finding opportunities. Take, for example, the prevalence of lighting at this year’s Expo. I find it suggestive that dmf and American Lighting are marketing their fixtures to the CI channel: They must recognize, as many integrators have, the value of bringing lighting solutions into a custom integration technology portfolio. There is a practical incentive for integrators to take on lighting, especially on small-to-medium projects without a dedicated lighting designer.

Integrators are in the right position to ensure that all fixtures are compatible with the control system, the right drivers are in place, and there are appropriate scenes for all applications. Owning lighting has strategic advantages as well, involving integrators in wellness and aesthetics and forging close cooperative relationships with architects and interior designers. 

CEDIA Expo proved that, as we reopen and redesign interactions in the wake of the COVID pandemic, we can derive serious business value from intimate events.

It is always a joy to uncover new technologies at CEDIA Expo. In the Launchpad area, the 2021 Tech Starter Winner guardDog impressed with their AI-driven network threat detection. As our industry becomes increasingly entwined with the network, leveraging streaming services and cloud-based voice assistants, and supporting home offices, we must consider network security. Products like gaurdDog’s Fido and accompanying Protective Cloud Services will make it possible for homeowners to mitigate threats to their growing array of networked devices without having to hire dedicated IT support.

Propel partner Autoslide’s Autoswing solution also caught my attention at the Launchpad. Autoswing allows integrators to incorporate touchless automation into existing swing doors, allowing them to increase the accessibility of a home and reduce unnecessary contact and cross-contamination without major disruption to the space. Autoswing has several different door control options, ranging from mobile app control to pressure mats and motion sensors, and is also compatible with mainstream smart lock solutions for security.  It’s a thoughtful technology approach that makes it easier and safer for people to remain in their homes, even after a loss of mobility. 

There’s certainly an element of selection bias at play here, but the attendees I encountered were also exceptionally happy to be at an in-person trade event once again. This was group of people who had chosen to come to Indianapolis, despite challenging circumstances and a flurry of discouraging news. They were respectful of the rules and each other’s risk tolerance. Their eagerness to return to face-to-face training, demonstrations, and networking was a powerful confirmation of the vital role such gatherings play in our industry. 

CEDIA Expo proved that, as we reopen and redesign interactions in the wake of the COVID pandemic, we can derive serious business value from intimate events. We know how to do this now: With masks, distanced seating, additional hygiene protocols, and heightened courtesy. The unexpectedly joyful experience of CEDIA Expo 2021 left me excited about the series of CEDIA Tech Summits already underway in the UK and US. 

These free regional events, taking place throughout Q4 of 2021, offer education, training, networking, and the opportunity to talk with some of the industry’s leading manufacturers about their latest products. Case in point: Google will be presenting the opening Keynote, “A Thoughtful Home,” at our upcoming Tech Summits in Irvine and Woodland Hills, California. Attendees at these events will also see LG’s newly announced microLED panels, and as well as discover new tools and training from brands including CinemaTech, Barco, and the aforementioned Autoslide. 

Register here, and join us for the event nearest you. You may be surprised at just how good it feels to be back.


Giles Sutton is the interim co-chief executive officer at CEDIA.