Brian Bjørn Hansen, B&O, on opening up to the CI channel

Brian Bjorn Hansen, head of system solutions at Bang & Olufsen headshot

“B&O is looking for custom installers”. You couldn’t miss Bang & Olufsen’s very public appeal to the residential community, emblazoned on the side of their stand at ISE 2017 in Hall 5 of the RAI. The company’s head of system solutions, Brian Bjørn Hansen, says changing its relationship with the integrator has been a long time coming.

The murmurs of “Dealing with B&O is a nightmare, but unfortunately we have to do it” had long plagued the Danish manufacturer, founded in 1925 by the Peter Bang and Svend Olufsen. Hansen, who joined the company as head of custom installation in August 2012, says although the company is unwavering in its design ethos, making it easy for the installer to integrate B&O products has increasingly been a priority.

“Installers had always thought of Bang and Olufsen systems as proprietary, closed, and difficult to use. They’d say ‘I can’t sell it’ or ‘I can’t make money on it’. But now we’ve changed all that.”

In February, the manufacturer launched the BeoLink SmartHome system, allowing users to connect its proprietary systems with automation systems from the likes of Crestron, Control4 and Savant. “We opened up everything, so we now have an open IP interface that can be integrated with any system users may have.”

The company clearly desires to be more than a luxury high street audio name by actively working with the professional community. “It’s been difficult to get the products because people could only buy them in specialised stores, so we have also opened that up so a CI can actually become a Bang & Olufsen dealer without opening up a store, which has also been one of the things that has held us back from being used before.”

Bang Olufsen home with BeoLink SmartHome solution

Making the invisible visible

Aside from the introduction of the BeoLink system, B&O company launched its Celestial line of in-ceiling speakers for the home – yet its approach is different from most manufacturing in the space. The company dedicated numerous man hours to the design of the pure aluminium grills (created by David Lewis), available in a host of different finishes. “When you take a built-in speaker from any one else everyone is trying to hide them away – they should be as invisible as possible.”

“We said yes, we want to hide them into the ceiling so you don’t have a floorstanding or freehanging speaker, but why hide it away when you have paid a lot for it?” Clients want people to come into the room and say ‘Wow, you’ve got Bang & Olufsen!’ because then they know the quality behind it,” affirms Hansen.

The reaction at first however, was mixed. “In the beginning Jeremy (Jeremy Burkhardt, CEO of Origin Acoustics) said ‘You’re crazy! I’ve spend my entire life hiding things away and now you come and tell me that you want to design the grills!’” He adds: “But when a customer buys an invisible speaker, we believe there’s nothing to see and enjoy.” It’s an approach that has been successful so far, with the company last recording a revenue of just under £2.5 billion (€2.98 billion) in 2014.

Although Hansen says the company is cautious about the proliferation of apps crowding and alliances he feels are closing off the industry to some, some partnerships – such as that with Origin Acoustics – have been essential for the manufacturer’s quest to be taken seriously by the CI market. “One of the reasons why we chose to partner with Origin Acoustics was of course they have the sound performance that’s really good and their concept of installing the speakers is easier than anyone else, but then they also have the right mindset,” says Hansen.

“And the mindset is: we want to treat the customer in the best possible way, and the customer is not only the end client but also the installer.”

Looking to the future

Going forward is the increasingly collaborative approach going to be essential for getting more technology in the home? “I am pretty sure that the whole industry needs to do something like this,” says Hansen.

“What I see as a bit of a problem is that all of them try to make smaller groups with other companies, then they are not open because you need to buy into these manufacturers to get that. Sonos is doing that as well right now and Crestron has been doing it for many years.”

“We don’t want to do that, so we have had a lot of partners ‘should we join forces and make something?’ so we have our own alliance of ‘X’ and we said no, we don’t want this.” What is behind this approach? “To be honest we are too small of a company to set a standard for what you should be using for your home control.”

Hansen continues: “With dedicated apps you have one that can console perhaps some of your life, but not all of it – i.e. some of your thermostat or cameras, but not all of it – you still need another one. And people hate that.”

“For us, it’s simple, if you think our products are beautiful, you should be able to integrate them with whatever ecosystem you have – that’s our mentality. But it’s also difficult to maintain.”

In an age when some can be aggressive in trying to secure market share, B&O say they only want to embrace the competition for the best experience in the home. “We don’t want to beat the likes of Sonos out. We want to be together in the home being as easy to integrate as possible with Sonos.” He adds: “But if you want something that is a little bit more high-end then Sonos, then you now have that possibility in using Bang & Olufsen.”

Soon to be on the horizon for B&O will be widely available integration with Google Home, following on from its partnership with Amazon. Yes Hansen admits that voice is still currently still more of a “gadget” than anything else right now.

“We have a philosophy that you should have one touchpoint and that’s why we have a simple remote with not many buttons on it.”

He concludes: “But over time there will be more and more voice and more and more meaning. And will take more and more control but I don’t think it will never replace what we have today.”