Overpriced gaudy hotels whose room elevators are buried inside casinos, crowded booths that are bigger than football fields, and foot-sore attendees and exhibitors standing in long lines waiting for shuttle buses. For anyone who has ever attended an NAB convention in Las Vegas, these are familiar memories.
We know why we do it: NAB is supposed to be the de facto world showcase for new broadcast technology. But in a world of websites and email, with budgets being slashed left and right, do we really need to go through this excruciating pilgrimage into the Nevada desert anymore? Or can we just find out what we need through some clicks on our office computers, supplemented by visits from salespeople who come to us, not vice versa?
Let's face it: With NAB2005 looming on the horizon--April 16-21 in the city that good taste forgot--it's time to ask ourselves whether this trip is really necessary.
Reasons Not to Go to NAB
Ask people who have been to NAB why they don't want to go back, and chances are the answer is money. "The booths are fabulously expensive," explains George Avgerakis, creative director at Avekta Productions in New York City.
There are two reasons why NAB floor space is expensive. The first is that renting the Las Vegas Convention Center isn't cheap. The second is that the show is "a massive source of revenue for the NAB," says Dennis Wharton, the NAB's senior vice president of corporate communications. "It helps support not just the association, but the important programs that we run on the industry's behalf year-round."
The price for attending NAB conferences isn't cheap either: An NAB member can expect to pay $425, while a non-NAB member will pay $850. If you can find a way to attend as a delegate's spouse, you can cut this price down to $100. Unfortunately, this money-saving tactic may require you to get married.
Besides the cost of attending NAB, there's the expense of staying in Sin City. To welcome the annual influx of 100,000-plus NAB delegates and exhibitors in traditional Las Vegas style, local hoteliers jack up their room rates. Need proof? According to www.tripreservations.com on December 21, 2004, the average daily price of a Circus Circus tower room from April 16th to 21st 2005 was $132.00. For the same room a week before, the average day rate was $81.40! (It's rumored that NAB attendees don't do much gambling, which might have something to do with the room rates--Vegas has to get its money somehow.)
Then there's the cost of taxis and the endless string of money-consuming activities that Las Vegas is famous for: gambling, sex (still illegal in Clark county-based Las Vegas), and booze. If sticking to a budget is your idea of a good time--or a business necessity--then don't attend NAB. After all, there's a good reason why the Nevada government doesn't charge any state income taxes to individuals: They make enough from their share of Vegas revenues to cover the state's budget needs.
Beyond how much it costs to stay in Las Vegas--and to get there--this town is not exactly a low-stress environment. Granted, for those who want to drink, gamble, and indulge in shady activities for a few hopefully anonymous days, any excuse to be in Vegas is a good excuse. But for the rest of humanity in "Lost Wages" for business, it isn't that much fun.
One reason is the sheer scale of the place. This is not a walking town (and some say that with a monorail, it's not even a monorail town). Factor in the oversized dimensions of the city's buildings, and the effect for the pedestrian is akin to approaching a mirage: You can see your destination clearly in the distance, but after 20 minutes you still don't seem to be any closer.
So Can We Stay Home?
In a word, no. The reason: Even with all its headaches and hassles, NAB is still a must-attend event for broadcasters and others in the teleproduction industry.
"Do we still need NAB? Absolutely yes," says Alec Shapiro, senior vice president of Sony Broadcast and Production Systems. "It is the most cost-effective way for manufacturers to reach a very diverse and broad audience. We get about 40,000 people that go through our Sony NAB booth every year."
"Exhibitors also get a lot of international customers," Shapiro adds. Many of them come from Latin America and Europe. In fact, of the roughly 98,000 delegates who attended NAB 2004, more than 20,000 came from outside the US, according to Dennis Wharton.
"NAB is the one show where we reach a huge percentage of our customer base," says Bruce Bredon, president of BUF Technology, maker of instant replay systems and control systems for VTRs, DDRs, video servers, and routing switchers. He adds that no other show can match NAB for reach. "The next largest is IBC; it's a third the size of NAB and mainly reaches our European customers."
Even people who have never been to an NAB show can see the value of this event. One of these people is the Palm Beach International Film Festival's Heath McKnight, a staff member who spends lot of time working with video. "NAB is worthwhile in many regards, most notably as a place to preview and premiere new technology to make the lives of both digital filmmakers and videographers easier," McKnight says. "On the other side of the coin, one could argue it's a place to see a whole lot of technology that many simply can't afford. And sometimes it's nothing more than vaporware; empty promises that can, on occasion, not deliver as promised."
But what about avoiding the whole NAB headache, and shopping instead via the Web at the comfort of your own desk? "Well, it's true that you can go to university on the Web, but how many people actually do so?" asks Avgerakis. He sees the NAB convention as the same kind of situation: There's no substitute for actually being there. "The 97,544 people who attended NAB2004 can't be wrong," quips Wharton.
Better Start Packing!
Ironically, the best description of the annual NAB extravaganza comes from non-attendee McKnight. "Ultimately, NAB is a very spectacular dog and pony show where companies can trot out their new stuff, be it real or vaporware, for attendees to look at and, hopefully, play with," he says. Too true.
For this reason, plus the ones listed above, the annual NAB show remains a must-attend event for the world broadcast industry. There's just no way around it.
As for the hassles of being in Las Vegas: the endless lights, jarring noise, and overpowering tackiness? You can combat some of it by staying in a quiet hotel off the Strip and getting enough sleep. Or you can do what I do: view Vegas as the ultimate circus midway, and wander the city during free time marveling at the Luxor's drive-through Sphinx and other tributes to Sin City's unorthodox marriage of mind-bending hype and unlimited marketing budgets.
An exhibits only pass costs $150 for members and $200 for non-members, but companies that exhibit are given a number of free passes based on their exhibit floor square footage to hand out to their customers and potential customers.
Trying To Improve The Situation
To its credit, the NAB is trying to make life better for its delegates and exhibitors. "We've got an advisory board that works with some of the vendors in Las Vegas, to try and lower costs," says NAB's senior vice president of corporate communications, Dennis Wharton.
As for taking the NAB show to somewhere less expensive than Vegas? This solution appeals to George Avgerakis. "Maybe the location should be changed to shake up the Powers That Be; those among us who reliably depend on the steady income of hosting the show every year," he suggests.
Great idea, but not practical, Wharton counters. "Las Vegas is one of the few cities in the world that can accommodate an event as large as NAB," he says. "It's also one of the very few places with enough hotel rooms."
Besides, most people welcome an excuse to come to Las Vegas, Wharton notes. "Every year we survey our attendees and ask them what they think of the NAB convention experience," he says. "Invariably, when we ask them where they want to attend the show, they say they want to come back to Las Vegas. They know the city, they like the nightlife here, and they like the fact that almost everything at the show is in one location."
To increase the educational role of NAB2005, the NAB is beuilding a model station inside the north hall, to address the digital SD/HD transition problems addressing the industry as a hole.
"There's a number of stations that have some knowlegde gaps on how to implement things," said project director Nigel Spratling. "We're going to demonstarte how to do a digital systems rebuild simply and hopefully cost effectively."
NAB-HD will be shown on monitors around the show and broadcast during daylight hours on KVVU-DT, the Fox station in Las Vegas. DTV recievers will be placed at a number of hotels for downconversion to the hotel's cable system.
NAB-HD will be open to all attendees and will include digital system rebuild case study presentations and round table discussions.
According to Spratling, equipment is being provided by Avid, Leitch, Sony, Thomson, and a host of smaller companies.