Back in June, Installation revealed its first ever Pro AV Power 20 list, rounding up the most inspiring and influential figures from across the AV and installation market. To get to know them a little better, we sat down with each of our Pro AV Power 20 inductees for an in-depth chat. Here, we meet Justin Kennington, president, SDVoE Alliance…
How did you first get involved in the AV marketplace?
One Saturday in summer 2009, sitting at home in Mountain View, California, I was bored with my career as a hardware design engineer (building server motherboards for Google data centres), and programming my iPod touch to control my home theatre. I thought “someone would pay me to do stuff like this – I’ll get a job at Crestron”. I called an old friend (university AV programmer) who put me in touch with Fred Bargetzi a week later. We chatted about a new product line he was launching – DigitalMedia. I said “yeah, I could run that” and then I was on a plane to New Jersey for a job interview. A few weeks later, my two cats and I flew to our new home.
What would you say are the most significant changes/ developments to have taken place in the industry during your time?
Certainly the transition from analogue video systems to digital video systems is the biggest industry shift related to my own experience. Not only because of the shift in technology, but because of the establishment of Crestron, formerly “just a control company” as a major player in video distribution (and today basically all aspects of pro AV).
What personal, professional achievements are you most proud of?
When I started at Crestron, DigitalMedia was a new idea that none of the customers even wanted. They said “analogue is easy, and digital is hard”. We sold around $4 million in product that first year. Six years later, after many hard-won battles and a lot of new products and new training (and new firmware), DigitalMedia was selling over $500 million per year when I moved on. It was a massive team effort, but leading that from a product perspective was something I am really proud of.
Do you have a philosophy that you live by professionally? If so, what is it and how has it benefitted your career, businesses you’ve worked with and the wider industry?
I pick what job I’m going to do next by the opportunities to learn that will come with it. If I think there’s something valuable I can learn and practice, I’ll take the job. If not, I won’t.
At Crestron I saw an opportunity to learn to manage a team. DM was a product team of five and an engineering team of nearly 60 by the time I was finished. I moved to AptoVision (now Semtech) to learn how to grow a business from (nearly) scratch, and sell that business.
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Certainly my thirst for knowledge has benefitted the product lines and businesses I have worked for, because I am always on the search for new ideas and the next big thing.
My own focus on learning makes me want to give back to the community in the same way. A big part of DM’s success was the DMC training curriculum, which I had a hand in conceiving and creating. That curriculum taught the industry how to live in a digital world. And today SDVoE Academy, the free online training resource put on by the SDVoE Alliance, is the keystone of that organisation’s portfolio, helping thousands of AV professionals become versed in the world of IT that we are all a part of today.
Prior to the outbreak of the global pandemic, what would you say were the biggest areas of technological or operational challenge for the AV industry?
The convergence of AV and IT – not as a technology problem, but as a human communication problem. As AV equipment moves ever more deeply into the IT network, it becomes crucial to understand that neither side (AV or IT) knows everything about the solution space. The only path to successful deployments these days is clear, open, and well-understood communication between AV and IT pros.
What impact has the pandemic had on you and your business, and what do you think will be the longer term impact of this extraordinary period on our sector?
Well for me personally, I was lucky enough to take some paternity leave for my third baby just as the pandemic started. So I’m just kicking my heels up (and changing more diapers that I could have ever imagined – please send help!). But more seriously, an impact for us has been to do a better job focusing outside our core geography (North America and EMEA). As the APAC region has led the way into lockdown and then re-opening, it has proven a good time for us to focus energy on getting the SDVoE word out to APAC. Fortunately this was already a strategic goal for us in 2020, so the timing is good.
Also, we have taken this opportunity to leverage our existing strength in online education (SDVoE Academy) and build upon our successes. We have launched The SDVoE Show which is a recurring live production to discuss trends in AV, and educate the audience about the convergence of AV and IT. It’s very high production value, and often quite entertaining.
What needs to change in the industry? What do we as a community need to get better at?
We need to understand the real impact of IT on AV. It’s not just about the network, it’s about the system owner’s expectations. Walled gardens are out. Interoperability and standards are in.
In your opinion, what will be the biggest driver(s) of change for the AV market in the next five years?
I know we’ve been saying ‘convergence’ for 20 years, but this time we really mean it. AV will be 100 per cent IT network-based in five years, and the pandemic will only help to drive that transition faster than before. Social distancing will create a big push to software-defined solutions like Zoom, MS Teams, and SDVoE.
Finally, what would be your message to those starting out their careers in the AV community?
Have fun, and always look for ways to learn. Make sure no task is ever beneath you – you can learn a lot just by talking to people over an RJ-45 crimper.
I joined the AV industry in 2009, as the world was just waking up to the idea that video would not be analogue forever. At the time, I was working in Google’s hardware platform group, developing new servers for the data centre environment. My hobby and passion lay with AV, so I contacted a friend who put me in touch with Fred Bargetzi, of Crestron. Fred hired me almost on the spot to help launch a new product line called DigitalMedia. In six years, I took a fledgling product that no one wanted (analogue was easier!) and turned it into the biggest video distribution product line in the world, completing the AV industry’s transition to digital video along the way.
During my time at Crestron, I was also a big proponent of standardisation and openness, something I picked up from my years at Google. I championed Crestron’s early membership in the HDBaseT Alliance, and helped drive interoperability and certification testing for that technology. I was honoured with InfoComm’s Young AV Professional of the Year Award in 2014.
Finally, I became tired of waiting on the industry’s next transition; to AV over IP. So in 2016 I joined a small technology start-up called AptoVision, makers of a solid but not-yet-widely- adopted technology for moving digital video over Ethernet networks. There I conceived of and founded the Software- Defined Video over Ethernet Alliance, for which I have served as president since its founding in late 2016. The purpose of the SDVoE Alliance is to push the AV industry to embrace powerful and affordable IT technology, by driving a single standard that interoperates between manufacturers. This contrasts with the AV industry’s history of walled gardens, but fits neatly with the expectations of IT departments everywhere. Today the SDVoE Alliance counts 51 members, including some heavy-hitters from both inside and outside the traditional AV world.
Who’s had the greatest influence on your career?
Who did/do you look up to as a role model professionally?
How do you measure success?
“Did I learn something?”
What’s your biggest professional regret?
I really wish I’d gotten a chance to design a cruise missile for Lockheed, Raytheon, etc (I’d never get by in big defense corporate culture, though)
If you were a teenager today, what profession would you go into?
Formula One driver