Richard Marples, strategic marketing director at Barco, believes impressive digitised experiences can transform a visitor attraction. “Attractive visualisation engages customers via technology, creating memories that will make them come back again,” he says. Aside from the cutting-edge visuals that the company builds with its range of projection technology, video walls and LED displays, Barco provides digital signage and works extensively behind the scenes. Networked visualisation technology is also part of the company’s education and collaboration portfolio and central to its security and monitoring portfolio. We talked to Marples about Barco’s growth.
Can you give us an overview of Barco?
Barco is a visualisation technology company at its heart, and over a number of years we’ve developed products in various markets. The company is split into three main businesses: Entertainment and Corporate, Industrial and Government and Healthcare. We focus on projectors and displays, but we also offer lighting, digital signage, networking, image processing – these are all adjacent technology sectors which fit into those markets.
When was the company founded?
Barco was founded in 1934. The name BARCO stands for the Belgian American Radio Corporation. An entrepreneurial Belgian named Lucien de Puydt did a deal with an American component supplier to bring radio components into Belgium and he began making traditional wooden cabinet valve radios. It was very much a consumer product company.
Once you’re making radios with valves, it isn’t a big leap to make televisions and record players. As the technology developed and more people started making radios and televisions, Barco found a niche in the broadcast industry.
From those valves and the radios came the CRT with the television, and then CRT projectors. During the 70s, the projectors had the red, green and blue guns and 500 to 700 lumen projectors. You had to have a completely dark room and they were difficult to set up and maintain – certainly not like the projectors we make today.
Then there was a gradual move by Barco to become exclusively involved in professional markets – both niche and mainstream businesses – which are usually centred around some sort of visualisation application with its associated add-ons.
Who are your key customers?
Barco’s largest division today is Entertainment and Corporate. The biggest market within E&C is digital cinema. There are only four suppliers worldwide who deliver a Hollywood-compliant projector and as one of those we’ve amassed just over 40 per cent of the worldwide market of about 130,000 screens. The digital cinema market continues to be one of our core activities. We’ve also developed an offering for media servers, audio systems and control systems. A cinema owner can now run the whole cinema from the lobby, and that’s revolutionised cinema.
What solutions do you offer attractions?
It’s the same visualisation solution for a number of different applications.
With our attractions customers there’s always an entertainment or experience part, whether that’s a 4D ride or dark ride or the end of day show at a theme park.
Another market is security and monitoring, a key element of all visitor attractions. We have complete security monitoring technology and display walls, allowing the security team to monitor and get feedback on what’s happening in the park. All the data an attraction owner needs can be displayed on a single screen.
We have a range which is signage and promotion, great for F&B outlets or souvenir shops. Our displays can give realtime information about queue times, promotions and so forth.
Lastly, there’s a meeting and collaboration element, so where there’s an educational focus, then we can get involved. Those are the four main elements. The solutions you need depend on the size and the number of visitors.
You bought projectiondesign in 2012?
We bought the Norwegian projection technology manufacturer in December 2012, giving us a complimentary set of products to target a broader market.
Where in the world is Barco working?
Everywhere. We have about 4,000 employees in 90 offices and factories around the world. We produce projectors in Belgium, China and Norway now because of projectiondesign. We have a lighting factory in Austin, Texas, and factories in California, India and Taiwan.
What are your immediate plans?
We’re always developing our product range to be relevant to our markets. There are certain technologies that are coming through into all our markets, such as laser light sources for projectors or more powerful computers and graphics cards.
What are the advantages of laser projectors?
Using laser, we can generate very pure colours. We can make them brighter because we’re not primarily producing heat, like with a lamp, but light. They’re very long-lasting and a laser will last 30,000 to 40,000 hours in the future. It’s more attractive in terms of running costs. The downside is lasers are expensive at the moment which is why we don’t see them universally yet. We’re developing the products and as the technology is used more the costs will come down, as happens with all new technology.
Has Barco overcome any challenges?
The success of Barco as it is now comes from when Eric van Zele joined as our CEO. He came in at a crucial time, in the middle of the financial crisis. He says openly that Barco had lost its way a little at that time. He quickly recognised we needed to change a number of key things and, at a time when there was no investment at all, he invested heavily in the cinema business. That turned out to be crucial. His foresight and vision turned the company around. Heading up the E&C division, Wim Buyens was looking after digital cinema and his strategy to develop cinema and parts of the entertainment business such as visitor attractions has got us to where we are today.
What’s the best thing about working for Barco?
We get involved in so many fascinating projects and see so many different ways of using our equipment. We never cease to be amazed by the creativity of our customers and the way they use our products to create brilliant projects. All attractions are competing for visitors, and they want repeat visitors and visitors who tell their friends about what a fantastic day they had. Providing entertaining visualisation is a great way of doing this. If your visitor is immersed and engaged, you’ve created an experience.