Video in the home goes mainstream

Checking in on kids, elderly parents and pets facilitated by residential video surveillance
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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

In the second decade of the 21st century, home security is no longer just about catching bad guys. Industry experts say lifestyle choices, technological savvy, generational perspectives on privacy, and affordability are the forces driving a dramatic increase in the demand for video options in home security systems.

“Whether it’s consumer driven or industry driven through advertising, it’s clear that the residential market is evolving into a reclassification of what is the service we ought to provide,” said Steve Firestone, president of Select Security, based in Lancaster, Pa. which installs security systems for homeowners.

“Is it security first and lifestyle management second, or is security part of that lifestyle management?” Firestone said. “If you have the ability to look in on what time your kids get home or leave, your pets, or check to see what your housecleaner is doing or what she’s supposed to be doing, … none of that has anything to do with security, but it’s something that a security company might offer.”

Manufacturers, integrators, dealers and monitoring station staff have no trouble rattling off the reasons why homeowners choose to install video systems into their home security systems. While video surveillance hasn’t yet become part of the definition of the American Dream, it has settled into the conversation of what constitutes a comfortable life.

“There’s been a change in the expectations of the customer,” said Jay Kenny, VP of marketing at Alarm.com, a Vienna, Va.-based manufacturer of a platform for security and energy management. “Being able to use a mobile app is now a basic standard … Home automation capability is what people want. Two to five years ago, the residential customer was not running video in their home.”

Not long ago, Kenny said, video recording for home security operated along the lines of a DVR machine. Now it’s a service. “Rather than sit down and watch the whole video [of your home in your absence], you can auto-trigger 30-second clips—when the doors were opened, motion. … You can capture a moment in a clip with smarter technology.”

And then there are the pets. Several industry experts told Security Systems News that while preventing home intrusion is important, and the safety of children is paramount, and keeping an eye on your elderly parents gets an enormous boost from new technology, video surveillance of pets has entered more and more conversations—and more homes.

“They miss them,” was Kenny’s low-tech explanation.

“It’s not just the kids and surroundings that customers want to see,” said Rob Puric, director of marketing at of Honeywell Security, an international leader in home security systems based in Morristown, N.J. “It’s their pets. People want to check on their pets every few hours while they’re away. Customers want to check on their families, their pets and their grandparents. If grandma goes to her chair every night at eight to watch her favorite TV show, and she’s not there by nine, her [family] will know and they will call.”

The generation that came of age during the post-9/11 decade of Facebook, Twitter and smart phones—some security professionals call them “Millennials,” while others say it’s anyone under 45 years old—has technological savvy and a hunger for information through video that is transforming the way the industry looks at home security.

From the mid-1990s to the early 2000s, cameras were focused only on exterior settings in the residential market because people were concerned about privacy, says Avi Rosenthal of Linear, a manufacturer of home security systems based in Carlsbad, California.

“That sensitivity has gone away,” says Rosenthal. “The end user wants to see what the nanny is up to, what the kids are up to. The level of sophistication among users is increasing to such a high level. Security is less about being private than it is about knowing what is going on.”

“People want and need to monitor their homes, and not necessarily by a central station,” Rosenthal said. “The Millennials are embracing this. The older generation, they want their vacation homes monitored but when it comes to their primary homes, there’s trepidation.”

“Success in camera technology is all about the Millennials,” Rosenthal said. “They took over.”

“I maintain that the younger generation, they want video connections to check on the baby sitter, their pets or the front door,” said Sean O’Keefe, managing director of consumer sales at BCI Technologies, an integrator and dealer based in Grand Prairie, Texas. “They are comfortable with the technology, and they don’t feel like the cameras are privacy intrusive. If you think about it, they are almost totally immersed in video. They’re used to getting their information that way, from a remote source. They’re comfortable with it. They are the ones teaching us.”

When it comes to figuring out what tech-savvy customers want before the customer realizes it, Qolsys of Cupertino, CA., makers of the IQ panel, a newer player in the home security product manufacturing business, is a pioneer.

“The camera is ubiquitous in the consumer market,” says Mike Hackett, co-founder and SVP of Qolsys.

The company, which is less than four years old, says it is the first to install a camera into the home security control panel. “When we first brought our product to dealers, they said our customers won’t want a camera,” Hackett said. “We stuck to it. We were regarded as outsiders. We didn’t have the credibility [to do something different]. Now we’re considered outsiders, but now the term ‘outsider’ is positive. It means we have new ideas.”

Hackett speaks of product development with the end user—and cost—in mind. He says Qolsys puts a lot of time, energy and resources to make problem solving for the end user a process that can be accomplished at home, by a central monitoring station, or a mobile device, without truck rolls.

“Whatever you can do from the panel, you can do remotely,” Hackett said. “We’re all about reducing truck rolls, reducing costs and increasing revenue.”

Cost reduction for home security video systems is complying with the basic laws of Economics 101—supply, demand and competition in the free market.

“It’s not expensive any longer,” BCI’s O’Keefe said. Five to 10 years ago, he said, a homeowner with a vandalism problem might be reluctant to purchase video surveillance because a four- to five-camera system ranged from $2,000 to $5,000.

“Now, the price has come way, way down to the point where a Walmart or a Costco can offer you a four- to eight-camera system for $250 to $350,” O’Keefe said. For that price, he noted, expect grainy images, stationary video and other limitations.

The market demographic, he said “probably starts where people come out of college, first making a living, buying their first home … mid twenties to late forties.”

“Thirty years ago, the residential market was aimed at the one-half of one percent of income earners, such as Greenwich, Conn., or Beverly Hills,” O’Keefe said. “Now, rarely do we talk to someone who is purchasing their first security system. [Video] has become a standard appliance.”

The future? “It’s all about building more intelligence into the cameras,” said Linear’s Rosenthal. The video surveillance camera in your garage will be able to tell you whether the movement detected is a four-legged creature or a human. “That level of intelligence built into the camera is becoming more affordable,” he said.