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A land of opportunity for the AV User Group as its global expansion plans continue

Ahead of AV User Group touching down in San Jose for the first time this month, its chairman Owen Ellis reveals demand for the group has reached unprecedented levels

According to AVIXA, the Bay area of West California is now the biggest in the US for audiovisual technology sales – surpassing that even of New York.

For the AV User Group – a not for profit organisation formed in 1996 to help AV end user professionals network and share best practice advice – expanding to the Golden State wasn’t so much a question of if, but when.

“Ever since we launched in New York (2012) the demand for a group on the West Coast has never gone away,” explained AV User Group chairman Owen Ellis – who is now approaching his first year as a full-time employee at the group.

Next month (October 18), Ellis, after nearly a year of planning, will be inside Google’s San Jose head office to officially launch the AV User Group in the region for the first time – and demand is high.

Rising demand

At the time of writing, membership numbers for the AV User Group (in total) have smashed past the 1,300 barrier – double that compared to September, 2017. Of that figure, 350 of those (representing around 250 different organisations) are located in the Bay Area.

“We’ve had some incredible interest since we announced our plans to launch in San Jose,” said Ellis. “It’s a very wide demographic, ranging from education to large corporate organisations. It’s a really good mix and a much higher number than we originally expected.”

Industry support

Demand, according to Ellis, has been fuelled by the “incredible” support from the industry, many (if not all) that have worked with the AV User Group in its other regions (London, New York, Hong Kong) and value its importance.

So much so, Ellis claims he could have sold the first event twice over, such was the interest. Shure, Logitech, Biamp, AVIXA, QSC, and Barco are all confirmed sponsors and will be presenting at the first event.

Extron, Tripleplay, Silicon Core, Mersive, Evertz, Dolby, Atlona, Electrosonic, AVMI, Diversified & L3AV are all sponsors for the post event networking drinks.

Ellis also revealed the next schedule meeting (next Spring) is already booked up (no venue announcement yet), with Crestron, Lightware, Sennheiser, NEC, Avocor and Avidex (local S.I.) all set to present. It also has a strong “first refusal” waiting list made up of Mersive, Atlona, Altia Systems/Panacast, Ashton Bentley & Starleaf should any drop out.

Overcoming obstacles

“It has gone incredibly well, so far,” said Ellis. “San Jose has been a real success story in the sense it was the first time I’ve opened a location that I’ve never worked in before. When we opened in New York and Hong Kong, they were two locations that we ran the Morgan Stanley multimedia business from. So, I was used to travelling to both locations to manage my team. I knew the industry and had contacts there, so it was fairly easy to build. I didn’t have that luxury with San Jose and yet from the day we opened in New York, I’ve been asked when we are opening up on the West Coast.

He continued: “The Bay Area is number one for AV sales in the US, so it was obviously the right target, it was just a case of building it. We were heavily dependent on our existing membership and sponsorship base, but I was amazed at the level of support we received from our sponsors and how keen they were to introduce their clients to us. It took me by surprise as I expected it to be a lot harder work. Knowing we have 350 members on the database, I’d be disappointed if we didn’t have 10 per cent of those at the first event.”

By around 2020, Ellis said he hopes to be able to offer US members the same level of support (i.e. accommodation) offered to those in the UK, in attending major trade show events. In the UK, that support is provided in getting members to ISE (Amsterdam, Barcelona 2021), whilst in the US, that would be its equivalent, InfoComm (Orlando 2019 /Vegas 2020).

“I’d hope in the next couple of years we’ll be able to start doing that for both US locations, so by 2020 we will hopefully have sufficient revenue to offer support in getting members to the shows.”

More locations?

Demand for the AV User Group is not however restricted to the US, Ellis revealed. In recent months, fuelled by its sponsors and activities in the market (including partnering with AVIXA at ISE), requests from end users all over the world have been received. France (Paris), Australia (Sydney), Canada (Toronto) and New Zealand are just some of the options, whilst interest from India has also been discussed, but to a lesser extent.

However, Ellis and the board are keen to ensure the value and reputation of the group is not tarnished by adopting a land grab rollout strategy. Groups, like in London in the early days, may begin life as simply networking opportunities amongst AV professionals, with potential sponsorship further down the line.

He continued: “When I sat down with the original management committee, one of my personal desires was to make something like the AV User Group available to as many end users in our industry as possible around the world over a period of time,” explained Ellis. “We’ve had some strong interest and it’s been exciting having discussions with the board about how go about that and grow the group further and scale. We’re very proud of what we’ve achieved and conscious that we don’t want to water that down. We’re also keen to protect the reputation we have built, but equally we don’t want to make it difficult for new locations to get started by setting a ridiculous criteria We’ve not got that nailed down yet, but we’re close.”

He concluded: “We always thought it would be us deciding where we should go, but that’s been flipped on its side as people are reaching out to us. It’s a very exciting time for all of us.”

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