It’s two weeks before the annual trek to film and video’s altar of technology, the National Association of Broadcasters’ convention and exhibition in Las Vegas. It’s a weird year because two major exhibitors – Avid and Apple – have both decided they could better spend their marketing dollars in other ways than by mounting multi-million-dollar booths on the show floor. This got me thinking about my 2006 trip to Amsterdam for the IBC convention. Why don’t the many NAB exhibitors look towards IBC’s human scale and create a more civil NAB instead of the annual booth one-upmanship that brought them to this costly point?
For those who don’t know, the IBC conference and exhibition is the sort-of midyear sibling to NAB and is the “must go” venue for many international film and video professionals who can’t or won’t go to Vegas. IBC itself is owned by six trade association partners, including SMPTE, and exists solely to manage this show. That makes IBC different from NAB, which is a broadcaster trade association that’s also involved in other conferences and lobbying activities. The annual venue for the IBC show, held in September, is the RAI Centre in Amsterdam – a multi-hall conference center and exhibit space recognized throughout the world by the arched roof of its main hall. The RAI Centre actually grew to span a local thoroughfare and as such is broken up into various halls, instead of one single event space. There’s a manmade beach and café in the middle of all this, which is accessible to locals who do mingle with attendees during lengthy midday breaks. In fact, September 2006 was a hot one in Europe, so a few of these office workers also chose to do a bit of lunch hour sunbathing – in a rather, shall we say, European fashion – providing a bit of distraction from all the geek stuff inside the halls.
In any case, the IBC convention uses the floor plan of the separate buildings to group product areas into specific themed halls. For example, all post-related exhibits were in a single hall. The booth square footage, number of vendors and total number of attendees is less than the NAB convention, so everything feels more comfortable. Even Sony, who typically creates an NAB booth bigger than most facilities or TV stations, had something far less grandiose at IBC. The result was a booth that was actually inviting and where you could find something out about the products. Furthermore, I had the distinct impression that the percentage of attendees who were employed in film and video crafts was higher at IBC than I’ve typically seen at the NABs of recent years. IBC schedules the convention over a weekend to accommodate European professionals who can easily commute from just about any major city to Amsterdam in less than a day via high-speed rail or cheap flights. Therefore, if you only want to see new editing hardware and software, you can knock out your convention time on a single weekend day and still have the rest of the week to spare for sightseeing.
The long and the short of it for Americans, is that IBC offers a welcomed alternative to NAB, if you’d like a more relaxed convention and tie it in with a trip abroad. Often the products you see at IBC in September are the actual shipping versions of those products that were announced – but weren’t ready yet – at NAB in April. A few companies time their product updates to coincide with IBC instead of NAB. Of course, there is no shortage of customer events and parties around town hosted by the vendors.
Amsterdam is a fun place to visit. In my case, I booked a suburban hotel that was right next to a train stop leading directly to the RAI Centre and the airport. So, I got a book of train tickets at the airport and was set for the rest of my stay. Trains run like clockwork, so each morning I hopped an early train and in less than half an hour was at the hall. Of course, like most European hotels, a hearty breakfast was included, so when I tally up the cost of the trip, it wasn’t really all that much different than the expense of a week in Las Vegas at NAB. Of course, this year the dollar is weaker against the Euro, so your mileage may vary!
I consider Amsterdam and the Netherlands as a “starter country” for first-time American travelers. English speaking is pervasive and in fact, even the local billboards and other ads routinely use so many English words and phrases that you have to wonder. This makes it easy to get around on only English, as most Dutch speak better English than Americans tend to speak any other second language. It’s a great town for tourists, so in addition to the trains, there’s an extensive tram system throughout the center of the city and tram or bus transit is generally free to IBC attendees during the days of the convention. Again, in my case – a train from the hotel to the RAI Centre and then a tram to any area within easy walking distance of museums, shops and other attractions. Plus the town is a beehive of bicyclists, which offers another travel alternative. A rental car is probably the least desirable option, because of bans, penalties and hassles related to inner city parking.
Naturally when you say Amsterdam, the first thing that comes to mind for many is the Red Light district. It’s an area I don’t recommend, unless you like your attractions seedy in the same sense as the worse of New York’s 42nd Street before it was “Disney-fied”. The shame of this is that Amsterdam has a wealth of culture to offer from churches to cafés to museums to architecture. You soak it in just walking around the old neighborhoods. It’s the town of Van Gogh and Rembrandt for goodness sake and there’s plenty of that to see in the many museums. Getting up close and personal to study the bush strokes on an actual Van Gogh or Rembrandt’s The Night Watch was awesome. Did you know that Van Gogh studied and copied Japanese prints in his early work? If art is not your cup of tea, there are plenty of other options, like canal trips and side tours of nearby Delft, Rotterdam, The Hague and the coastline.
As you contemplate the impact of Apple’s and Avid’s pull-out from NAB, you might look for some alternatives to NAB next year. IBC could be just the ticket you’re looking for.
©2008 Oliver Peters