At CEDIA EXPO 2008, the Media Center Integrator Alliance (MCIA) was launched by some of the most influential brands in the custom installation channel.

CustomRetailer recently discussed the brief past, busy present and long future of MCIA with three of its founding members: MCIA Chairman Kevin Collins, Director of the Custom Installer Channel, Microsoft; MCIA Vice Chairman Brian Paper, Vice President, Operations and Co-Founder, Niveus Media; and Greg Schlechter, Platform Marketing Manager in the Consumer PC Group for Intel.

What is MCIA?
Schlechter: MCIA is an open, independent, non-profit industry organization formed to drive adoption and awareness of the Media Center ecosystem in the custom integration channel. MCIA establishes a central, unified voice and forum for the Media Center ecosystem.

Explain this concept of a Media Center “ecosystem.”
Paper: It includes a wide range of Media Center products, companies and integrators. None of them exist in a vacuum; they all relate, even if right now many of them don’t actively relate. MCIA is here to facilitate and establish these relationships in order to share information, best practices and a lot more.

Products in the Media Center ecosystem include powerful, energy-efficient GPUs and CPUs, digital tuners, high-speed networking, media servers, extenders for Windows Media Center devices, mobile Internet devices, high-definition digital content, A/V gear, security devices, PCs, thermostats and lighting control. MCIA’s message is that by assembling the right Media Center products and applications, integrators can fully serve the entertainment and automation needs of any residential or commercial installation.

How did MCIA come about?
Collins: Although Media Center had been making an increasing impact in the custom channel for several years, there never was a rallying point in the CEDIA world for the whole Media Center community to come together and interact. With the establishment of MCIA, now there is.

Who are the members of MCIA?

Collins: The founding members of MCIA are AMD, Crestron, HP, Intel, Life|ware, Microsoft and Niveus Media. However, this is by no means a manufacturer-focused consortium. These companies started MCIA with the intention of attracting widespread integrator membership.

What is the need for this Alliance?
Paper: As Kevin mentioned, the Media Center community lacked a common meeting place, particularly for the purposes of sharing design, installation and marketing best practices as well as developing and administering certification, training and education. As MCIA members, we truly believe that the capabilities of the companies who support Media Center technologies are greater when combined. MCIA will pool vital resources and ideas, guided by the common goals of nurturing, developing and expanding the Media Center ecosystem.

Schlechter: The bottom line is that we are all in this together. MCIA firmly believes the success of the Media Center ecosystem is tied directly to the success of the integrators and a healthy ecosystem of products in the channel. And let’s not forget the benefits to end users. This stronger ecosystem of products installed by well-trained, certified integrators will benefit end users by providing more capable and reliable systems in their homes.

Why now?
Collins: Why not now? The time is right. The custom integration channel has been evaluating Media Center for some time now, and there is incredible interest and energy surrounding the Media Center ecosystem.

Paper: A main point of emphasis that we are imparting is for everyone to get involved in MCIA now, or at the very least sooner rather than later. As a charter or early member, integrators and participating companies gain a unique opportunity to impact and influence the development of the MCIA program and its tools as well as of the Media Center platform itself.

Will MCIA make an effort to win over those who are skeptical, or even hostile?
Collins: We’re going to do our best. In particular, MCIA is intent on creating education programs and driving marketing initiatives that build trust and understating between the A/V and IT communities, which are converging in the CEDIA space. We will seek to address and debunk the misconceptions and prejudices out there about Media Center. The Media Center ecosystem is no longer focused on the “PC in the living room.” Rather, it’s about the most comprehensive, functional platform ever devised for home entertainment and automation. That’s what we’re going to promote.

MCIA was launched at CEDIA EXPO 2008. In terms of MCIA business and development, what has transpired since then?
Paper: Before CEDIA EXPO, the primary focus for MCIA was to get up and running and to generate excitement and awareness. Now, MCIA has been focused on bringing more integrators and manufacturers into the fold.

The goal for everyone is to encourage and enable adoption of Media Center as a robust, scalable and price-competitive platform upon which to streamline end users’ digital lifestyles into intuitive, multi-zone ecosystems. To accomplish these objectives, we have created dedicated MCIA Work Groups that will carry out specific initiatives. The Education and Tools and Best Practices Work Groups are the most integrator-focused. Both are working diligently to develop curricula, resources and certification programs, which will ultimately enable integrators to be more successful and profitable.

Meanwhile, MCIA’s Marketing/PR and Recruiting Work Groups have been designated as the primary committees for garnering participation and boosting awareness. As part of the marketing initiatives, we’ve launched a Case Study program; integrator members are encouraged to submit their best Media Center-based installations, and the Marketing/PR team will create an engaging piece of literature for each integrator that showcases this work. MCIA integrators also will have exclusive access to public relations resources that will help them promote their businesses within their markets.

Is MCIA a Microsoft initiative?
Collins: MCIA is not a Microsoft-run or Microsoft-directed organization. It is not a division, spinoff or any other part of Microsoft Corp. Microsoft is simply one of MCIA’s several highly engaged charter members, with no more and no less influence than any of its peers. Voting is democratic, and all contributing members earn a right to vote with their memberships.

What are your plans for the next six months?
Paper: We are actively enrolling contributor and participant member companies, including integrators and manufacturers that provide products designed to enhance, extend or complete the Media Center ecosystem. We’ll also continue to develop our training program to educate integrators on how to leverage the Media Center platform to fully serve the entertainment and automation needs of any residential or commercial installation. We’ll also be developing our certification programs. CR