Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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The State of AV in Africa

The AV industry in South Africa has come a long way since I started my career in the early 2000s. I can still vividly recall the distinct sound of 56k dial-up modems connecting to the internet to download manuals or an IR file from the AMX website.

In those early years, we relied solely on the manuals that came with the equipment in the box. If you lost that manual, well, you were stuck. One valuable lesson ingrained in me during those formative years was the importance of knowledge transfer. When facing a problem on-site, there was no Google or YouTube to guide you through; you had to persevere until you found a solution. Once you resolved an issue, sharing that knowledge with fellow technicians was essential. Over time, this created a robust “brain hive.”

Fast forward to today, and some of those “brain hives” no longer exist. There has been a significant migration of skilled professionals to countries like Australia, New Zealand, and others. Additionally, newer generations entering the AV market often lack training from those who have departed. In my role as an independent AV consultant, interacting with distributors and integrators locally in South Africa and across Africa reveals a noticeable gap in the basic fundamentals of audio, video, and IP networks.

Sadly, as you move from South Africa north into Africa, the skill and knowledge levels seem to diminish even further. Occasionally, you may encounter a skilled individual who is self-taught through YouTube and supplier training videos. However, upon engaging with them, it becomes evident that they lack basic fundamentals. They often do not fully understand the principles behind their actions and are simply content when they manage to get audio or video signals working. We’re not even discussing the complexities of commissioning or calibrating a system to achieve its optimal performance. I was at an airport in West Africa recently, exploring a newly added wing. As I looked around, I noticed a well-known Chinese public address system installed. I thought to myself, “This should sound decent.” However, I was quickly proven wrong. The microphone input was clipping and distorting so severely that it was difficult to understand the announcements. Everything in me wanted to fix it, even if it meant doing so for free. Unfortunately, or shall I say fortunately, I noticed my plane was boarding, and I had to leave.

This brings me to another sad truth, especially outside South Africa: Chinese brands are flooding African markets with their products, installing them at minimal cost, and then moving on to the next customer. They then leave the customer without knowledge of how to operate or maintain the system, or with any technical support.

Generally, spare parts for AV equipment can only be obtained from distributors, typically located in the UK, EU, Dubai, or South Africa. This distance makes servicing AV gear in Africa challenging, compounded by the need for technical skills to replace damaged or broken components.

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Some African countries are seeking help from South African distributors or integrators. They receive well-engineered systems with relevant quotes, only to use the designs as a “shopping list” in other countries like the UK, EU, and Dubai to secure better competitive pricing. The only time they reach out again is if something goes wrong or they encounter installation difficulties.

The flip side of the coin is bribery, and while it’s something we’ve all encountered in our professional careers, I won’t delve into discussions about it. Nonetheless, it’s a reality in the African market, where the term ‘greasing the wheels’ is used to expedite deal-making processes.

Another obstacle in Africa is the cultural and language barriers. For instance, there are French-speaking countries where proficiency in French is often necessary to conduct business. This limits opportunities for those who do not speak French, resulting in most of their business coming from European French-speaking countries.

In summary, while there are numerous obstacles to discuss regarding expanding market share in Africa, based on my 25+ years in the AV industry, I firmly believe it begins with education. Product education is valuable, and many manufacturers offer excellent training materials, but these often assume a foundational knowledge of audio, video, control, and IP networks. Educating the technicians who install the equipment on how to calculate optimal placements, whether it’s for projectors, screens, or speakers, and understanding the ripple effect of their decisions, such as moving a loudspeaker a ceiling tile left or right, is crucial. While online training is excellent for reaching a wide audience, the challenge lies in applying that knowledge practically, which is where we need to focus our efforts to bridge the chasm.

Anton van Wyk

Anton van Wyk commenced his career in 1997 as a Sound Engineer. In 2000, he transitioned to an Audio-Visual Engineer role at Future Media South Africa. Following Future Media's acquisition by Dimension Data (now NTT DATA) in 2002, he joined Omega Digital Technologies South Africa, where he heads the technical division. In October 2012, he joined Wild and Marr South Africa (now Planet World Pro), a leading provider of Harman International, Shure, Q-Sys, and various other AV technologies in South Africa. He initially served as Technical Manager and was later appointed as Technical Director. In October 2022, he started AVWorx, importing and distributing professional broadcast gear such as Genelec. AVWorx was acquired by Prosound in February 2023, whereupon Anton started Van Wyk Consulting, an independent audiovisual consultancy practice.


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