LAS VEGAS—Crowded, loud, overwhelming, sensory overload … all are observations one could take away from the 2019 NAB Show in Las Vegas.
However, to a certain extent, those sensations depended on where you spent your time at the show. In particular, the South Lower Hall seemed the loudest and most crowded to me, with the South Upper Hall taking second place.
This reflects the continuing shift of attendees away from traditional over-the-air broadcasting and more toward web-based and streaming video applications, the latter two of which were well represented in the South Hall. There are still plenty of traditional over-the-air broadcast activity at the NAB Show, but there are also lots of non-OTA vendors and activities.
ATTENDANCE DOWN, BUYERS UP
To get a feel for the overall show, let’s start with the numbers. The official word from the NAB is that the 2019 show’s preliminary registered attendance was 91,460, compared to 2018’s final attendance, which was 92,912. Preliminary registered attendance is based on pre-show and onsite registration, and subject to an ongoing audit.
“Although total registered attendance was down slightly, the number of attendees who identified as ‘buyers’ was up, which is a positive development for exhibitors, many of whom commented positively about an uptick in business deals at the show,” said Chris Brown, executive vice president for conventions and business operations at NAB. “More than 200 companies exhibited for the first time and were among the nearly one million net square feet of space that make up the NAB Show exhibit floor. These new exhibitors, along with specialized exhibit areas, reflect the unique position of NAB Show at the center of the convergence of media, entertainment and technology.”
There was also a small drop in the number of exhibitors at this year’s show.
“In total, 1,632 companies exhibited at the 2019 NAB Show, compared to 1,718 in 2018,” Brown said. “This reflects an industry in the midst of consolidation and transition. Newer technologies, like 3D, VR and drones, have gone through the classic bell curve of innovation and shake out, with an initial rush of new entrants giving way to consolidation and ultimately resulting in a few key suppliers. We were also impacted by global economic factors, including a slowdown in some of the bigger emerging media technology markets like China. We saw a noticeable drop-off in Chinese exhibitors this year versus 2018.”
ACROSS THE WORLD
Attendees stream to the NAB Show from all over the world, and each has his or her own expectations and impressions of the show. Some are old hands at attending NAB Shows, while others experienced their first.
Brian Scott, from Image Design Productions in Charlotte, N.C., has been to more than 30 NAB Shows, and was looking closely at cameras, among other things. He noticed that there was some 8K gear on the exhibition floor, but found another aspect of the show more interesting.
“I think the emphasis on storytelling this year has been really good, because I think that is what we do as a company, whether we’re doing a documentary or doing marketing,” he said.
Scott had been to many NAB Shows and knew what to expect, but Taylor Bascue, from PBS station KCWC in Riverton, Wyo., was at his first show.
“It’s big—there’s a lot to take in,” Bascue said. “It’s been a lot of fun, and there are a lot of interesting things here.”
Bascue said that he was looking at transcoders, decoders, filters and other products to help get the station’s signal out there and cleaned up.
MORE THAN EXPECTED
Shamillia Rock works at a church in Trinidad and Tobago, and was also attending her first NAB Show.
“I was astonished,” she said. “I didn’t foresee the scale [of the show]. I was looking for a camera, but here there are 10 different cameras! There was much more than I expected.”
Rock arrived at the show thinking that three days would be too long.
“But you really need all that time,” she said, and went on to say what she would be doing next year: “I will surely be back.”
One of the draws for attendees is the extensive program of sessions and learning opportunities. Mattie Macintosh, a producer for the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, was effusive in her praise of the sessions.
“I’ve signed up for the Post-Production World pass and I’ve gotten to go to a lot of great classes,” she said. “I thought I was pretty good with Adobe Premiere but after going to all these classes, there’s a lot to learn. I got to see Dan Judy, the senior colorist for ‘The 100,’ which was really cool because I like that show.”
Macintosh was also a first-time attendee at the NAB Show and gave her perspective on what it was like to walk through the door.
“It’s a little overwhelming at first, but I think it is definitely worth coming,” she said.
The attendees I spoke to were generally focused on their specialties and didn’t have a feel for new technologies that were on display. However, members of the NAB’s staff had their thoughts on the latest tech trends.
“The two big items I saw at NAB Show were Next Gen TV [aka ATSC 3.0] and connected car infotainment systems,” said Sam Matheny, executive vice president for technology and chief technology officer for NAB. “There were more than 50 exhibitors featuring ATSC 3.0 equipment and solutions, multiple live single-frequency networks and a major announcement of planned deployments in the top-40 markets. In our PILOT booth, we featured televisions from LG, Samsung and Sony all showing Ultra-HD content, while running interactive applications that combine broadcast and broadband connectivity to provide new and improved user experiences.
“I thought the new In-Vehicle Experience exhibit area showcased the latest and greatest in how radio continues to play a central role in future infotainment systems,” Matheny said. “There were new and evolved infotainment systems from Audi, Panasonic, Xperi and many others. There is a lot of new technology coming to the car, and this area highlighted the amazing opportunities broadcasters have to engage audiences in new ways.”
SUNDAY WILL NEVER BE THE SAME
One small change in the schedule of next year’s NAB Show was the subject of some discussion. At the 2020 NAB Show, the exhibition floor will open on Sunday instead of Monday.
“Shifting the dates provides professionals the opportunity to attend the show outside of the busy work week, while aligning with our existing education programs,” said NAB’s Brown. “This change is in response to research we conducted and feedback from the NAB Show community at large.”
Keep the new schedule in mind as you begin long-range planning to attend next year’s show.
In my 30+ years of attending the NAB Show, I’ve seen it transition from being predominantly about gear and engineering into a show focused more on the technology of entertainment and how to use it to tell stories. There is still plenty of engineering here, but tens of thousands of non-engineers feel completely satisfied when they attend the show and find content and products to meet their interests.
This is a good sign—the broadcast and filmmaking industries have moved beyond their technical roots and now place easy-to-use content creation tools in the hands of more artists than ever before. In the process, there are also far more outlets for this creativity, so that no one has to wonder about how his or her story will find an audience. If you make good content, the audience will find it.
“This is a resilient industry, built by people passionate about creating and delivering the best—the most exciting, most visually appealing content possible,” Brown said. “There was a lot of buzz around this year’s theme: Every Story Starts Here. There was widespread acknowledgement that stories are what make this industry hum. The good news is that there are more people and companies out there developing stories than ever before, with video as the preferred medium.”
The 2020 NAB Show will take place in Las Vegas, April 18-22, 2020.