The Scary Side of Pro AV
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!