Last NAB Show Before the End of Analog…

The inundation of emails and phone calls leading up to NAB conjures assertions that trade shows are also-rans; a relic of the past in the age of the instant interaction on the Internet. Empirical evidence suggests, however, that face time has value, perhaps now more than ever.

The economy is trembling; businesses, individuals and governments are leveraged to the eyeballs. In less than 10 months, one of the nation’s most ubiquitous communications infrastructures will undergo an unprecedented, radical shift. No one has a clue about the outcome, regardless of the reams of speculation to that effect.

There is no more valuable time to make eye contact, shake hands, and have candid conversations about what’s needed for the broadcast television business to forge ahead.

There are no easy answers. Those buying the technology need the most efficient, effective functionality at the lowest possible price. Those selling it need to cover the cost of making it as well as deriving a profit. At no other time in the history of the U.S. television has that intersection been so very razor thin. The upshot is one of extreme implications for the 2008 NAB Show--it could be one of the most imperative or one of the more lackluster in terms of results.

But lackluster is truly unlikely. This is the last NAB show before the end of analog television and the beginning of mobile broadcasting.

The keynote line-up is Hollywood heavy, as opposed to the broadcast centric names of the past. Academy Award winner Tim Burton will open the show. Director Barry Sonnenfeld is on the roster along with Jeffrey Katzenberg (virtually) and the producers of the TV series, “Lost,” Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof.

The L.A. contingent will talk about content strategies, which is still anyone’s game when it comes to alternative distribution platforms. The broadcast industry continues to grapple with the Internet even while it races to go mobile. Dave Lougee, president of Gannett’s broadcasting division recently spoke with Television Broadcast for an executive profile in the April issue. He shared the following observation about the Internet:

“I don’t think broadcasters have done a very good job with the platform, and I think it’s the model, which is pushing out one to many… that’s not the power of the Internet. It’s about one-to-one engagement. It’s been a hard thing for broadcasters to make that transition,” he said.

NBC Universal switched its ’Net distribution strategy last year when it bailed out of iTunes and teamed up with Fox to form the online distribution site, Hulu. The venture’s CEO, Jason Kilar, will be another keynoter at the Rumble in the Desert known as the 2008 NAB Show.

Another key feature of this year’s gathering in Vegas will not necessarily have a correlative face, and that’s current financial environment. Money is tight; banks are caving like flans. Private equity is the nouveau ownership in media, as exemplified by Providence Equity Partners $100 million piece of Hulu, as well as its position ion Freedom Communications, Univision, MGM and Newport Television, the TV group formerly known as Clear Channel’s.

Stations are leveraged to the hilt, having invested for the digital transition with no clear return on that money, while the traditional advertising revenue stream is under pressure from alternative distribution platforms. TV broadcast licenses are not yet selling on Craigslist, but a recent price tag of $5 million for a big four affiliate in a mid-sized market suggests the possibility.

It’s an intense time in the TV broadcasting business. It will look nothing like it does today one year from now, and much of its direction will be formed in the high desert over the next few days.

See you at the show. -- Deborah D. McAdams