A 1960s audio pioneer has just been granted the gift of vision.
Plantronics, which has been making headsets since the early days of the space race, recently purchased video conferencing leader Polycom to modernize its enterprise communications.
While there’s no doubt Plantronics wants to find new markets for its headphones among Polycom’s list of clients and collaborators, the real prize is gaining a piece–a sizeable one–of the growing video conferencing market. If you spot a “Plantronics Buys Polycom” headline, it’s safe to say you can read it as “Plantronics Buys into Video Conferencing.”
Polycom has been a force in the high-end video market for years now, but its long-term value may lie in its ability to provide a quality visual product that’s also practical, flexible, and user-friendly.
It has already produced a custom-made, one-touch video solution for Microsoft, and as Plantronics takes control, Polycom could push further into the current trend of video-powered unified communications systems that sit on employees’ desks and aren’t hidden away in fancy boardrooms.
From Headphones to Video Phones
Plantronics paid $2 billion for Polycom to, according to its own press, “broaden the breadth of solutions available to customers and partners.” The purchase comes two years after the video vendor was bought for a similar price by private equity firm Siris Capital, which beat out Canadian telecommunications company Mitel for the prize.
That’s not a great deal for Siris, and the fact that the sale failed to make the private firm much of a profit has been interpreted as a sign that Polycom is caught in the middle of a shift in video conferencing trends. The market now favors software-based video platforms and nimble equipment designed for use by non-IT experts. Cloud-based products like Zoom and GoToMeeting are more affordable than the on-premises deployments Polycom promotes, as are huddle room cameras that cater for small meetings in smaller settings than the traditional boardroom. Essentially, as video becomes more popular in everyday business use, the equipment and platforms are becoming simpler and more flexible.
Polycom still controls nearly a quarter of the telepresence market and is used in more than 400,000 companies, but there’s comparatively little growth left in that field of high-end, large-scale video conferencing. Plantronics would be wise to continue down the smaller-scale route Polycom recently charted with its Microsoft partnership.
The All-in-One Video Office
Toward the end of 2016, Microsoft decided to start simplifying the way users access their Skype for Business brand in the conference room. It partnered with several leading video peripheral manufacturers, including Polycom, to produce a series of Skype Room Systems. Each system streamlined the way users organized their conference rooms and launched video calls.
It’s a change that reflects an overall trend toward simpler video conferencing. Slack’s version of unified communications, where everything from messaging to video calling to project updates and workplace analytics are housed within the same easy-to-navigate system, has taken hold of modern business. Its success has prompted Microsoft to launch its own version, Teams, and spawned a series of imitators.
Video within this setup is just another rapid-fire form of communication between teammates, albeit a very powerful one in that it allows direct face-to-face communication in an instant. By buying Polycom, Plantronics gets to modernize its own communications offerings away from audio-only and toward this new trend of video for everybody.
Video Is Killing Audio-Only
In announcing the Polycom deal, Plantronics CEO Joe Burton said it would put his company in “an ideal position to solve for today’s enterprise collaboration requirements while capitalizing on market opportunities associated with the evolving, intelligent enterprise.”
He’s talking about the growing influence of video in the workplace and the deployment of flexible solutions like Slack and huddle room conferencing. Sure, Plantronics gets to offer its headset technology to those 400,000 companies already using Polycom equipment, but more than that, it gets to add video to its formerly purely audio-based solutions.
Landline phones are already starting to disappear from offices, replaced by computer-based systems that can transmit both audio and visuals. Smartphone communication is becoming more popular, as is telecommuting.
Perhaps Plantronics has plans to integrate its wide range of headphone technologies into some of Polycom’s video equipment. The company does produce everything from music earbuds and gaming headphones to Bluetooth phone connections and call center headsets. Maybe we’ll see a hands-free, voice-activated solution?
Whatever direction the final product takes, it will have to acknowledge that the traditional spaces that companies like Polycom and Plantronics once roamed are shifting. As a consolidated force, however, they may be able to adapt before it’s too late…and we see Polycom back on the market, looking for another buyer.