Equipment vendors proceed to NAB with caution

Many predict attendance will be lower than last year, but that won’t keep the technology vendors from vying for the spotlight.

Vendors of broadcast and production equipment and other services are approaching this year’s NAB convention with a bit of optimism combined with a heavy dose of cautious apprehension. Many feel the show’s attendance will be smaller than last year, but nonetheless understand that this event continues to be the most important U.S. convention in the industry and the annual meeting place for thousands of customers.

Even though networks and other media companies have stated both publicly and privately that they will send less people this year (attendance is expected to be down 20 percent overall), there will be plenty of professionals that still want to see what’s new.

Some broadcasters will be there: The Affiliate Board of Directors of FOX and NBC will both be holding their annual meetings as planned, although CBS has canceled its annual engineering breakfast. The Sinclair Broadcast Group will also be there. It will host a live demonstration in booth C8546N of its mobile video transmission technology.

Broadcast Engineering’s “Beyond The Headlines” asked several manufacturers exhibiting at the show why they feel the NAB is still a critical part of their marketing and sales efforts. While the answers varied slightly, and virtually all will be spending less money — bringing less people and equipment — than last year’s show, the consensus is that Las Vegas is the place to be this week.

Due to the tough economy facing the industry, the show has seen its share of upheaval. Perennial exhibitors IDX (batteries) and Quantel (editing/compositing systems) have decided not to exhibit at the show this year. In addition, several companies have sought to reduce their booth space in an effort to save money, resulting in a greater than usual amount of exhibitor shifting.

In the South Upper Hall, system integrator Ascent Media will be exhibiting in a smaller booth (SU1413), making room for Broadcast Pix. Cisco pulled out of its show floor booth in January and took two small meetings rooms instead. Cisco’s space, which had been next to where Ascent was, has been chopped up into four smaller booths.

On the positive side, all of this exhibit hall shuffling has led to Broadcast Pix gaining a large booth on a main aisle. If Ascent Media had not reduced its booth size, Broadcast Pix would not have had the seniority to exhibit in such a high-profile space. Ken Swanton, president of Broadcast Pix (exhibiting the latest version of the Slate production system), said that his company expects to gain some attention that it has not received in previous years.

With more than 40 new products on display, Sony executives said that station personnel who attend NAB this week will be looking to see how vendors are weathering the storm. Companies not in attendance run the risk of having attendees make the assumption that the missing company is not supporting the industry and its customers.

Sony Electronics is the biggest exhibitor (26,000sq ft) at the show this year, with the same size booth as last year. Among the products will be a new line of HD studio cameras, due in May, that are less costly yet include many of the same features of its HDC series studio cameras.

“While I expect attendance to be off, we’re not concerned about it, because the quality customers will be there,” said Alec Shapiro, senior video president of Sony’s Broadcast & Production Systems division. “We’ve seen [a similar situation] before, after September 11, 2001, where attendance was lower but all of our key customers showed up. We had great meetings then, and we expect to equally fruitful ones this year. If anything at all, we hope to give the people who come to the show a greater opportunity to speak with Sony people and get quality time with the equipment in the booth.”

He said that the NAB Show is not only important to Sony’s U.S. operations, but it’s critical for the company’s European, Latin American and Asian divisions. Sony says there are a lot of new facilities going up in Latin America, for example, so representatives will be there to scout out new equipment.

Harris Broadcast will demonstrate a new master control center that utilizes the company’s full breadth of interoperable capabilities to prepare content for playout to any of the growing number of distribution methods available to DTV broadcasters. This demo will include a Harris Nexio AMP server providing broadcast video feeds to the IconMaster master control switcher, Centrio multi-image processor, Platinum routing switcher and ADC automation platform.

A Harris representative said stations still need to upgrade their equipment and will be looking for cost-effective ways to do that. In this regard, it’s important for vendors to show solutions that are affordable and can help stations get through the next few years with the smallest amount of effort. The company has been hosting a “virtual NAB” on its Web site and will present live coverage from the show floor, with live video product demonstrations and executive interviews displayed for those not attending the show.

Production switcher maker Echolab has developed a new platform for its Overture switchers (unveiled at last year’s NAB show) that include the internal circuitry necessary to perform single-link processing of 3Gb/s signals. This year the company will exhibit in a smaller booth (from 2000sq ft to 1600sq ft) and is taking less people compared with last year. Company president Nigel Sprattling said that if many people do not attend, it will give his staff a good chance to take a close look at what competitors are doing on the show floor and perhaps even make a few technology agreements to work together on new systems.

For the past month Echolab has been busy trying to get the word out about its new products before the show, via the Internet and other methods, in order to attract NAB booth traffic. “What really happens is, if a network sends less people, they tend to have more focused targets, and if you are not in their crosshairs, you won't see anybody from that network,” said Sprattling. “Pre-show marketing has been very critical this year.”

John Larrabee, vice president of North American sales for Pilat, which will be exhibiting its Integrated Broadcast Management System and MediaPro software platforms, said the NAB Show is a good chance for the company to test the reaction to new features of their latest software revisions. If not many people attend, the company will be able to spend more time talking with the ones that do, which will give them better feedback.

Geoff Stedman, senior vice president of products and markets for video server provider Omneon, agrees. “We look forward to this time of year and being able to show off the things we've been working on all winter,” he said. “It’s a chance for the engineers to come out of their caves and enjoy the spotlight.”

At this year’s NAB Show, Omneon is offering a new automated channel playout server that performs branding and audio processing in a low-cost box called MediaDeck GX, which can be tightly linked with a station’s existing automation system to enable low-cost branding and master control functionality.

While the final attendance numbers remain to be seen (The NAB won't give out preregistration numbers like it has in past years), the show will go on, deals will be done, and attendees will walk the exhibit halls exhausted from all that they see. For those that didn't make the trip, several road shows have already been announced, bringing a “Taste of NAB” — as former broadcast engineer Larry Bloomfield has been doing for several years — to a local neighborhood event.

Of note: The NAB said that there are more than 70 new exhibitors that will showcase their technologies and services this year, including: Electronic Arts, Phillips 3D Solutions and 3ality Digital. They will be joined by 1600 others, including 430 internationally based exhibitors.