From Customer to CEO: A Conversation with Kaleidescape’s Tayloe Stansbury
I first had the opportunity to speak with Tayloe Stansbury last November, just days after his appointment as Kaleidescape’s new CEO had been announced. He took an interesting journey to becoming the CEO, going from being a customer to joining the board in August 2020 and then being named head of the company. During that earlier conversation, it was clear Tayloe shared our passion for movies and home theater, so we jumped at the chance to talk to him again to discuss home theater, trends in the industry, and his plans for driving Kaleidescape forward.
Could you tell me what got you into home theater and a little bit about your primary viewing system?
Sure. I got into it about 20 years ago when I got a projector. It was one of those “If You Give a Moose a Muffin” moments—the projector then turned into a whole bunch of other equipment.
Somewhere along the line my dealer got me interested in Kaleidescape. My first reaction was, “Yeah, so what’s wrong with Apple TV?” This was about 10 years ago. But he convinced me, and I bought a small system—an M500 movie player and a 1U server—and we loved it, just because of the convenience and not having to sit through all the FBI warnings and extraneous previews and so forth that DVDs used to force on you.
From there, the system has grown. We swapped out our Madrigal, Revel, and Proceed equipment for mostly Meridian equipment. The projector is now a SIM2. It’s about 10 years old but it’s just an awesome 5,000-lumen device. It’s still gorgeous and it’s still powered with a Kaleidescape M500. So we now have a Storm processor, Meridian speakers, SIM2 projector, and three 1Us serving up a whole bunch of content. We also have Stratos and Terras in some of our other systems as well.
What kind of insights did being a longtime Kaleidescape customer allow you to bring to your new role as CEO?
In any company, it’s best to think of the customer first because that’s who you’re serving and that’s who you’re building your
products for. Coming into this as a longtime customer means I have a very clear outside-in perspective that’s enabled me to think about a number of problems a little bit differently.
One thing I know from having been a customer is that people don’t like having to buy the same content twice. You buy a movie at one resolution, and then you have to pay for it all over again when it’s offered in a higher resolution. Or
you already bought the content on disc and loaded it onto a Premiere system, but now you want to get a Strato and Terra system but don’t want to have to repurchase a lot of the same content.
So one of the changes we’ve made is to offer format upgrades at a much lower price. And for people coming from a disc-based world, we’re offering disc-to-digital transition pricing for when you’re doing a Strato add-on to a Premiere system so you don’t feel like you have to buy your content from scratch all over again.
Spec’ing a Kaleidescape into a big six-figure system is a no-brainer, but how do you make the case for including one in a mid-to-low five-figure system where people tend to want to go with a Roku or an Apple TV?
Great question. First, not everybody who buys a high-end system gets a Kaleidescape. It’s crazy to think that someone’s spending $100,000 on a theater and then feeding it with a relatively low-bit-rate source device. When you’re playing a 4K HDR movie on a Kaleidescape compared to playing a 4K movie on a streaming device, you’re getting about four times the video bit-rate and about 10 times the audio bit-rate. It’s a pretty profound difference.
You might watch the streamer and say, “Wow, that actually looks and sounds pretty good.” But then play the same scenes again on a Kaleidescape and you’ll really see and hear the difference.
It’s just as important to build a balanced system whether it’s for a secondary viewing area or a dedicated theater room. It doesn’t make sense to have any weak links in the chain, especially with the source that’s feeding all your movie content. By overspending on the latter parts of the chain, like the video display, speakers, and amplification, and underspending on the
first part, which is the source component, you’re getting garbage in, which just doesn’t make a lot of sense.
As you transition to lower-priced systems, there does come a point where the advantage and richness of a high-end source starts to become
overkill. But it actually happens at a much lower price point than one might think. Even a $25,000 theater or media room is going to be better served by having a Strato in it than by spending that same amount of money on better speakers or amplification. Having that clarity at the source driving what might be slightly less-expensive things downstream actually gives you a better balanced system overall.
And once you have a server, the cost of adding a player is only about three grand at current pricing. At that price, you’ve got to say, well, why wouldn’t you put one with every TV in your house, if it’s a 4K display and has a decent sound system associated with it?
Where are you seeing more pushback on the lower-end sales, from integrators or from customers?
It’s an awareness problem across the board, with people not understanding the difference it can make in the overall experience. For customers, it’s being aware of the importance of a premium content source to power their system. I think integrators get that, but may not be aware that Kaleidescape also offers integration options like being able to automate the room lighting and curtains, because the movies can cue the correct aspect ratio, they can lower lights and close curtains as the movie begins and can start raising the lights as the credits are rolling.
Theater closures due to the pandemic have upended traditional movie distribution. What impact has all this had on Kaleidescape?
Certainly there has been limited or no ability to go to theaters for a while, which is driving people who want to see movies to watch them at home. Twenty years ago, the possibility of having a home experience that would approach the theater experience wasn’t even there. But today, it absolutely is. So the content you’re getting from a Kaleidescape system is coming at a video and audio resolution that’s equivalent to what you’d be getting in a theater. And the sound systems you can get for the home have become much more affordable—and that’s now the more expensive part of the system. The ability to have an
absolutely cinematic experience at home without having to sit on somebody else’s popcorn is pretty amazing now.
Kaleidescape grew last year as a result of a lot of people watching more movies at home. We’ll have to see when theaters fully reopen whether people flock back to them or if this has put a permanent dent in their behavior.
One of the other changes is the ability to watch a movie when it comes out, as opposed to waiting for it to show up on video distribution. And we now have a rental feature that includes Premium Video on Demand (PVOD), so certain content can be released the same day it appears in theaters.
How did the rental option come about and what does it mean for system owners?
We thought it was important to offer this to our customer base because there are times when you’re like, “Do I really want to buy this movie?” Now you can just go ahead and rent it, and if it turns out you love it, we’ll credit half your rental price to the purchase. And of course then you don’t have to download it again. The rental is downloaded exactly the same as before—it’s the exact same bits you get when you buy a movie, so there’s no penalty in quality.
We’ll see how this plays out and if it changes people’s behavior. It might enable us to go to a new class of buyer because a lot of people don’t consider themselves movie collectors; they just like to watch movies. But they don’t typically watch them more than once, or it’s once in a long while that they’ll watch a classic again, like a Star Wars.
I think there’s been a misconception that probably goes all the way back to the beginning of Kaleidescape that it’s really a product for people who want to be able to organize their disc collections and make them instantly available, that this is a product for collectors as opposed to cinephiles, who just love to watch movies. This new service makes it clear you don’t have to own a single title.
They say the first 100 days in office are some of the most important, and by my reckoning you’re coming up on that number.
How far have you gotten with your wish list and where do you see things going over the next year or so?
Coming with the perspective of a long-time customer really helps bring more outside-in thinking into the company. So that
installed base, with many of them running older systems. We’d love to get them upgraded to Strato and Terra systems. So we’re putting together some programs to facilitate that.
It seems like there are three groups you’d want to talk to: The integrators who sell and service your product, current customers, and potential customers. What message would you have for each of those groups?
Since many of the dealers and integrators have a dated view of the company, it’s important to get the word out that we’ve got new changes coming, new policies coming, so it’s a different thing than when they checked in on us some years ago. Getting that message about vibrancy to dealers is super important.
With existing customers, we need to convey that we want to take care of them, we want to get the movies they might have in lower resolution upgraded to the highest res they can run on their system without price being a barrier. When they start running short of disc space, we want to make sure we notify them of the options they have for upgrading for more space.
For prospective customers who may not have heard of Kaleidescape, we want to get the word out through increased marketing testimonials and the like that this really does give you a better home cinema experience than you can get through any other source.
What trends do you see driving the luxury home entertainment market, and where does Kaleidescape fit into all that?
Watching movies at home has obviously grown in the last year. I don’t think theaters are dead, but if you can have a similar or better experience at home, a lot of people are going to be drawn to that. And that, of course, is the space we play into. And within that space, what we play to is the high end—people who care about excellence in their home viewing and listening experience. But we offer that at a price point that is reasonably affordable, even for systems that aren’t huge and aren’t intended for a dedicated theater room.
If all you’re going to do is end up with a cheap TV and no additional speakers, you may not want a Kaleidescape, but if you really care about what you’re watching, you probably do want one. So there are systems for streamers, and then there are systems for Kaleidescape.
There are basically two kinds of people: Those who have Kaleidescape and those who don’t but want it.
The problem is there are actually three categories. The third is the people who don’t know about it yet.
And we want to get it down to those first two categories—those who have it and love it, and this who don’t have it and want it. If we can do that, we’ll be in great shape.
Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing for such publications as Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at @SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.