Four innovation takeaways from a day spent with home theater integrators

I just returned from a flying visit to Indianapolis, home of racecars, the Slippery Noodle haunted bar, and the CEDIA Expo, the annual trade show for the custom home integrators that make houses into tricked-out, electronic-media-rich homes. I was struck by how the same innovation-related discussions we're having at our Aging2.0 events are increasingly relevant in their world. 

This is a group outside my current focus area, so was happy to join a panel that Laura Mitchell from Grand Care put together, entitled ‘Skyping Grandmas: Smart Stoves & Connected Home: A 2 Hour Intensive Digital Home Health Workshop’. The fact that digital home integrators, previously focused mostly on big media and entertainment installations, were now interested in exploring integrating health solutions and the senior market in particular, speaks to the need for an interdisciplinary approach for all of these conversations. Only 1 person in the audience of around 75 people was currently integrating health solutions, yet the majority put their hand up when asked whether that is something they’d like to start doing in the next 18 months.

My short presentation focused on some emerging business models that we’ve seen that may be of interest and new ways to think about distribution, such as partnering with senior living homes and home care providers. The slides are here.

Other panelists were mostly ‘Big Guys’ - AARP, Qualcomm and the Consumer Electronics Association, who provided information about data, trends and latest initiatives in this space (such as the important Continuaa Health Alliance). Startup LivWellHealth, represented by their CEO Alex Go, was there. Alex is an experienced and articulate purveyor of home monitoring and wellness technology, since his time at Intel, and provided some useful go to market perspectives.

The discussion and feedback from the audience and their questions resonated with me, and so here’s my attempt to make a summary of some of the key takeaways, both for the integrators, and for the Aging2.0 readership.

1. The integrators industry, like others, is in a state of transition. The scope of the products and services that now need to be offered has expanded considerably. While it used to be media (big TVs and hifis) it’s expanding into information (home security, smart fridges etc) and now needs to take on health and wellness.

At the same time technology has evolved so that new players are eating up some of the value that the integrators used to offer – the iPad is so simple people learn it on their own, and Continuaa (and similar initiatives) is bringing plug-and-play from the conceptual level to actual reality.

And perhaps most important is a somewhat subtle point - the customer is changing. While it used to be the wealthy middle–aged man fulfilling his dreams with a lot of black media boxes, the customer is now often a group of people, with an increasingly feminine component. The adult child (often the eldest daughter who tends to become the lead caregiver) will be asked by their parent for help with a variety of things, including technology solutions and so may need help. If the products relate to ‘aging in place’ then the decision maker and the payer is often the child, while the user is the older adult. Also, as the population ages the customer is increasingly female; as one visibly enlightened audience member chimed, ‘Heck, we need to be targeting the little old ladies!’.

2. There is a ‘blue ocean’ gap between health and media

While a handful of big players have been making in-roads into bringing health and wellness into the home (such as Qualcomm), most of the movement in the coming years will be from new players, since the space doesn’t really exist yet. The  opportunity is, however, a 'perfect storm' - of changing demographics, technology and user behavior.

There are either health players, or media players, but few that have successfully bridged both worlds. There’s certainly a role to play for the facilitators and integrators, but of more interest from a business perspective would be a brand that can be aspirational, positive and encompass the health, wellness as well as media experiences.

3. The new competitors will be individual-centric, not home-centric

I predict that the companies that become trusted brands for combining all the technology in the home will be the ones that have first won in the mobile realm While the most important screen in people’s lives up until the 1990s was the TV, now it’s their mobile device. This is the platform where the battle will be fought, and there’s a danger that home technology-focused companies will be watching from the sidelines. According to a Frost & Sullivan analyst I met last night, $300m has been spent on personal health apps on the Apple Appstore over the past couple of years, a major new market that dwarves many of the more established home media product categories.

4. Pay attention to the gaming companies

One area that didn’t get much discussion was the increasing importance of game dynamics. Given that our economy needs to shift from ‘sick care’ to health care, in particular making broad use of preventative health, attention will turn to experts in behavior change. 70% of healthcare dollars come from chronic diseases which are essentially behavior change challenges – whether it's cutting down unhealthy food and doing more exercise to reduce obesity and heart disease, or taking regular diabetes medicines. Some of the most interesting companies are taking a social gaming approach to starting and maintaining good health, for example SuperBetter and KEAS use game dynamics to improve health outcomes.

In summary, the integrators, and many others looking to compete in the home-automation space, have a lot to put on their innovation agenda, so maybe we can simplify with 3Ss.

  • Scope: An enlarged range of business and product expertise is needed. Develop content expertise beyond media and information to wellness and healthcare.

  • Solutions. Successful companies will figure out how to sell solutions that improve lives, and not just features. It’s the same for TVs and test tubes – people don’t want to buy health products, but they will buy a better lifestyle.

  • Synergies. Look for partners who are already trusted and connected with the target customer/s and work with them on affiliate deals and partnerships. A slide in my deck illustrates a number of potential partners for a start that would be considered ‘non-traditional’.

The question for me, is who will be the ones who figure out this market first? The ones in the room at CEDIA, or another group entirely?


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