KOBA 2019: Insight into the Korean AV market

KOBA 2019 exhibition
Exhibition show floor and Sama Sound booth at KOBA 2019

KOBA was held in Seoul, Korea from May 22 to 24, 2019 at COEX. The exhibition, as always, provided insight into the Korean AV and broadcast industries. Inavate was at the show and we bring you our key takeaways.

1. The next step for broadcast
The Korean broadcast industry remains in robust health. However, it is important to note that it is just emerging from a cycle of development. For the past years Korean broadcast was focused on 4K broadcast and this was achieved for the Winter Olympics held in the country. Korean broadcasters like KBS and SBS were present in force at KOBA 2019 and from discussions, it seems that the broadcast sector is beginning to gear up for its next challenge. Whether this is a serious take on 8K or whether IP transmission has merit or something completely new remains to be seen.

2. AV on display?
KOBA has never been a pure AV show. However, that does not mean AV manufacturers and their partners do not have a reason to exhibit or visit. Line-arrays and LEDs have always found their place at KOBA. But one technology which has always been conspicuous by its absence is projection. This changed, as we saw Christie projection inside the show halls this year. Does this mean more projector manufacturers will follow suite next year?

3. New technology
AV over IP is the blanket push for the whole industry. The Koreans have long transmitted audio over IP networks, but adoption of video over IP remains muted. Aten exhibited at KOBA 2019 and is one of the more popular video transmission solutions in the Korean market. However, the likes of Crestron, Extron and Kramer declined to exhibit at the show. Speaking with Korean integrators revealed that video over IP solutions are still considered nascent. Couple that perception with the established broadcast industry and its liking for SDI and that means video over IP solutions have a lot of convincing left to do in Korea.

4. Business considerations
As the AV industry is growing, it is attracting attention from parties looking to capitalise. We’ve seen a number of acquisitions and takeovers in recent years and KOBA 2019 provided feedback on how these business decisions are impacting the industry. We start with the good, as Dasan SR, a distributor for EAW in Korea, commented on the positive impact the RCF’s buyout has had. The distributor specifically highlighted the new EAW products and the engineering support it has received since the change of ownership.

On the other hand, we have Samsung’s acquisition of Harman. The Harman range of products is distributed in Korea by TechData. However, Samsung is extremely active in the Korean AV market and is one of the largest integrators in the country under the brand S1. Discussions with Korean consultants revealed that S1 has offered to provide Harman products directly. Does this mean Samsung intends to go direct to market with its Harman range of products in Korea? And if so, is this a strategy that could be rolled out to other regions as well?

5. The future of Korean AV?
Korea ranks as the 12th largest economy of the world. Yet conversations with Korean AV professionals in the past have been muted when it comes to economic growth in the country. These conversations changed at KOBA 2019. More and more AV integrators were hopeful that the ‘stagnation’ of business they have experienced is about to change. The factors for this change in business outlook were identified as stable leadership and a possible moving forward of conflict resolution with North Korea.

At the same time, a couple of key Korean distributors find themselves at a crossroads. Sama Sound, an active distributor for brands such as Shure and Allen & Heath, has been acquired by Hibino Group from Japan. The move comes as the distributor strategises a leadership change, with the current owner looking to step down. There were also rumours of other distributors facing the situation of managing a changing of the guard. If these are true, the Korean AV industry’s landscape might be changing significantly in the coming years.