The Scary Side of Pro AV

A Kent family Halloween

As we enter October, my absolute favorite holiday comes with it — Halloween (witness my own family decorations). Did you know there are more than 1,200 professional haunted attractions in the U.S., and another 300+ amusement parks that convert to haunted attractions for Halloween? On top of that, more than 3,000 not-for-profit and charity organizations produce some sort of Halloween attraction to raise money for great causes.

What does this have to do with pro AV you ask? Before we get to that, here are some more interesting facts you may not be aware of:

  • The average number of paid guests to these attractions is around 8,000 people, depending on the market and size of the attraction.
  • About 80 percent of the professional haunts will average between 7,500 and 10,000 guests.
  • 3 percent of professional attractions have roughly 35,000 guests and the top 1 to 2 percentwill reach 40,000 to 60,000 guests.
  • About 10 percent of all the attractions (professional and not-for-profit) range about 12,000 to 20,000 paid guests.
  • The average ticket price for 2011 was $15 per event and as much as $25.
  • Major amusement park haunts can charge as much as $65.
  • This translates into between $3 million and $500 million dollars in revenue just for the non-amusement park attractions, and an additional $150 million to $300 million for the amusement parks.
  • Professional and not-for-profit groups spent over $500 million on their attractions last year and Americans spent over $3 billion dollars on Halloween decorations and costumes for their homes.
  • Corporate American can, and often does, contribute between $10,000 and $100,000 in sponsorships per location for the attractions, especially the not-for-profits, and view it as a great way to reach the 18-to-34-year-old market (a technology-savvy group).
  • The U.S. exports over $50 million in Halloween paraphernalia annually.
  • The use of sophisticated AV technology, such as digital distributed audio, holographic projection, and automation control, has increased 150 percent  in the last five years alone, equating to roughly 60 percent of an attraction’s annual budget.

While these attractions may only run for as long as a month or as little as a few weekends, planning, purchasing, and installation can be a yearlong event. Often, purchases are made during the early part of the year to be integrated into whatever Wes Cravenesque creation might be dreamed up.  Having AV professionals involved is one way to ensure a better experience for patrons.

One benefit of having AV professionals work a haunted house is that they bring a good understanding of what technology is available and the relative costs to implement.  A good AV professional will also be able to guide the haunt designers in hiding and integrating technology into a particular scary display so that patrons and equipment are safe from (hopefully) terrified guests.

In fact, haunted houses should probably be an AV market the way K-12, HOW, and corporate boardrooms are. Repeat business is a major indicator of a haunt’s profitability, so there’s a financial incentive to preventing a garbage-in, garbage-out scenario. Plus, knowing how to select the right components to accomplish a desired effect goes a long way toward the haunt’s success. Not to mention, such attractions often end up in older buildings with inferior infrastructures, as those buildings are typical targets for creating a good haunt’s ambiance. Therefore, providing power to all the gadgets is a big consideration. 

Ultimately, due to the sophistication in high-tech and automation that now accompanies these Halloween endeavors, professional system designers are either contracted or hired as full-time employees to design and even install some pretty far-out-there solutions. Having someone on the team who understands the challenges of “whole-haunt” systems — namely the three “Rs” of repeatability, ruggedness, and reliability– can be an asset, especially if the work needs to be done without overloading the electrical system, and/or in a discrete and concealed way.

A great way to accomplish this is through all-digital distribution for audio, video, and automation, thereby minimizing your infrastructure plant. This will allow flexibility in routing, as well as better reliability and repeatability. And because the twisted-pair cables can be hidden more easily, it will prevent that scared-out-of-his-pants high school football player from ripping out cables and tearing down loudspeakers as he claws his way to escape from the nightmarish chainsaw-wielding maniac chasing him down the dark hallway.

In addition, power management systems and components with low-power-state standby modes can help prevent over-taxing the electrical system and help reduce operating costs, which means the haunt can generate more profits and/or donations.

From a business standpoint, haunts typically change which scary displays go where on an annual basis. Many are in large, open-framed warehouses or cornfields and forests that allow walls and pathways to be easily relocated. More often than not, however, there will be architectural limitations to reconfiguring how patrons progress. Still, all this can mean repeat business for the AV professional as new technology comes out and/or haunts reconfigure for a new year of screams.

So if you’re an AV professional who has a good understanding of these challenges and loves Halloween, here’s an opportunity to get involved and offer up your skills for a little scary fun. You may also make some money.

Ever integrated systems for a haunted house? Share your experiences!

About Raymond Kent

Raymond Kent is Managing Principal of Sustainable Technologies Group LLC , which provides consulting services in audiovisual, acoustics, lighting, theater technical, IT and intelligent building technology for the performing and cultural arts, healthcare, higher education and corporate markets. He is involved with the InfoComm Green AV Task Force and is co-author of the Sustainable Technology Environments Program (STEP™) rating system. Raymond currently is Co-Chair of the STEP Foundation’s Technical Task Force and serves as the InfoComm liaison to the United States Institute for Theater Technology (USITT).

3 Responses to “The Scary Side of Pro AV”

  1. Speaking to what technology is available for all-digital distribution and control of audio, video, and automation: one of the leading solutions that many of these amusement parks and haunted houses employ is VenueMagic Show Control Software(http://www.venuemagic.com/).

    VenueMagic is deployed in many of the US’s leading haunted houses with great acclaim. The Blumhouse of Horrors in Los Angeles uses VenueMagic to control its all rooms simultaneously with 48 channels of audio. Its 21 rooms have actors that use triggers, sending signals in real time to VenueMagic in addition to its pre-programmed show.

    VenueMagic is also employed at Headless Horsemen in New York (http://www.headlesshorseman.com/) and Field of Screams in Maryland (http://www.screams.org/), where 3 separate buildings are controlled wirelessly using VenueMagic.

    VenueMagic combines timeline-based video, multi-track audio, MIDI and DMX lighting control into a single, easy-to-use program that incorporates, integrates and synchronizes show hardware and control.

  2. I’ve been doing a home haunt with my family for the last 5 years, and AV is a critical addition! Music and lights alone can drastically change an area, and the better the installation, the better the experience.

    • Pro AV is crucial to our own haunt. Last year we pixel mapped the front of our house and projected with a Christie Digital HD-10K- M 3-chip DLP. We ran 16-channels of audio using a Presonus 1818VSL, Aviom Pro64, (2) Extron XPA 2004 4-channel amps and a Crown CT8150 8-chanel amp. Loudspeakers were QSC Acoustic Design series and Community iBox series. We did a holographic projection with a Optoma 1-child DLP of Madame Leota (Disney Hanuted Mansion) with the audio running through an HPR series portable PA to beable to hide the sound source and provide a single chanel of Sennheiser eW 300 wireless to be able to add lib from a distance. Lighting and control was with an ETC Smart Fade console, several ETC Source 4 19-26 degree fixtures and Coemar RGB PAR fixtures. I even had an old Robo Scan in there for good effect. And of course there was plenty of Rosco foggers and strobes to boot!