Deck the halls
For the first time in many a year — certainly since before the death of the Rotunda and the old North Hall (where the South Hall now is) — it will be possible to stay in the same air-conditioned space for the whole of this year's NAB in Las Vegas. This has not been achieved by some geographical miracle, like switching points of the compass again, but by eliminating the Sands Convention Center from this year's show and squeezing everybody into LVCC space. If you are staying in the Las Vegas Hilton, you can use the bridge between the Hilton and the convention center and avoid the sun and desert air for six days.
But don't get lost in the South Hall! There are now five ways into the building and shuttles will unload at both the east and west ends, although it should take attendees only a day or so to work out which end is fastest for them. And if you have to get to a meeting room you'd better leave extra time if you don't know whether the room is in the old building or in the space wedged mid-air between it and the South Hall — they're probably 15 minutes apart across the main TV/Video/Film convention floor.
RTNDA gets help in driving visitors by opening its exhibit space in the Hilton the Sunday afternoon before the main exhibit halls open. But in general, of course, most people will not arrive until that Sunday, as all the hotels with casinos strictly limit Saturday arrivals, catering to their frequent Friday/Saturday night gambling guests from southern California.
The Chairman and three of the four FCC Commissioners will be on hand for the Chairman's breakfast and a “Regulatory Face-Off,” and one hopes that attendees will bring some tough, but real, questions to that event. Spectrum allocation is going to get hairier in the next few years, from the suggestion (in this column) that the Commission is angling for ways to charge broadcasters for spectrum, to the way it implements the suggestions in its own internal reports for making better use of spectrum that is allocated, but not actually occupied, in some areas of the country.
2003 is likely to be pivotal in the broadcasting industry. Whatever doom and gloom about the economy you've read in your daily newspaper is really not factual. Everybody in the technology business knows that the economy has been ticking up every month since about April 2002 and, as of this writing, most companies are seeing numbers that look like late 2000. We effectively seem to have gone through the busting stage and are now on the slowly rising gradient that we were on before. With the pressure on for DTV, with rules eased on power levels, and with a need for a new generation of equipment to replace the old, broadcasters at NAB will be in a buying mode.
High on the shopping list will be more NTSC transmitter replacements. Sales in this arena are already quite high, and there is an incredible amount of equipment currently in service that is truly hanging on by its tube bases. The stations who are in the market for analog will be looking for equipment that they can either get value out of for 10 years or so, or they will be looking for product that can be converted for DTV when the time is right.
The number of TV stations in operation is still growing, from 1678 in 2001 to 1712 in 2002, and the penetration of terrestrial TV broadcasting has increased slightly over previous years (to 85.3 percent, from 84.1 percent the previous year) — but only because the number of U.S. households has increased — while advertising revenues continue to fall (from $41 billion in 2000 to $36 billion in 2001), as has viewer share (from a 63 prime-time share in the 2000-2001 season to a 59 share in 2001-2002).
But while TV broadcasting is certainly not a license to print money, and hasn't been for quite a few years, that 15 percent of the population that uses terrestrial services should still be a good base for the industry to keep investing for some years ahead. It will be difficult for this country to accept the disappearance of “free” broadcasting services and the industry needs to play on that by always being in the vanguard of content delivery.
But while this should be a bumper NAB, there are some negatives. The organization tells us that the floor will be occupied by two dozen “related industries.” Who are they, why are they at our convention, and how do you avoid them? Nevertheless, bring your checkbook and your shopping list and enjoy the annual working party that is NAB. Maybe we can turn our newly acquired halls into a much better controlled space than previous years, and we can rejoice at all those inter-convention center shuttles we don't have to line up for in the hot sun.
Paul McGoldrick is an industry consultant based on the West Coast.
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