NAB – Yes or No?

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With the economy in the dump a number of major manufacturers have decided to reduce their presence at large trade shows. For folks in the film and video business, that means some of our favorite vendors might not be at the annual NAB Convention and Exhibition in Las Vegas. Companies like Apple, Quantel and RED have decided to skip this year – each for a different reason. This has many folks wondering whether they should go either.

 

First, a little perspective. The NAB equipment exhibition is the tail that wags the dog. The point of the annual gathering is really as a place for NAB members to convene for various sessions and conferences related to the business of broadcast radio and television. The equipment display started as a sidelight to the rest of the convention and as one of the ways in which the NAB funds its ongoing activities. If you are not an NAB member – and most of the production and post production people who attend are not – then you generally have attended as an “exhibitor’s guest”. This is a great way to see the toys for free, but you need to realize that a lot more goes on at NAB than just the equipment display at the LVCC.

 

For example, NAB, in conjunction with Future Media Concepts, has conducted the NAB Post Production World sessions. These are training sessions (available at an additional cost) that cover a wide range of informational and training sessions for different post production products and techniques. The LA Final Cut Pro User Group – together with other FCP groups – has organized the annual SuperMeet. Quite a few other user events for many different manufacturers dot the calendar for NAB week. These various events are a great place to meet friends, share ideas and even on occasion, pick up words of wisdom from such editing luminaries as Walter Murch or Hughes Winborne.

 

But what about the equipment exhibition itself? Many companies complain about the cost and offer that customers today can get the same information online, at a retail outlet or a touring road show. I will certainly acknowledge the expense. Quantel pointed out that their investment in NAB floor space is over $1 Million. When you look at the investment in past years from companies like Avid or Sony – who send a large support force in addition to what you see at the booth – that cost can easily tally into several million dollars. I, for one, feel that booths have generally become too grandiose and would rather see a convention that is more “human-scaled”, like IBC.

 

On the other hand, I do feel that a convention like NAB is one of the only places in the world where you can see everyone together, kick one set of tires and then walk across the aisle and kick the other. If you don’t live in a major market, then you don’t have access to an Apple store or a big reseller and road shows don’t stop in your town. Furthermore, if you need to find out about microphones or grip and lighting equipment or distribution amplifiers, then the NAB show might be the only chance to actually see and maybe test out a product without making a sight-unseen purchase. NAB provides one of the few central places were you can go and get touchy-feely with the gear. It’s also the place where you often run into the key providers of tomorrow. Avid and EditShare, to name two companies, started in the back of the hall with the smallest possible presence. I don’t think RED would have done as well without the mystery generated by their red Alpine tent at the NAB show.

 

I certainly can’t fault a company for making prudent financial decisions, but these decisions can also be wise in the short term and poor for the long run. Avid made such a decision two years ago, but then decided to return this year. Obviously they’ve found value in being at NAB. For better or worse, it’s a great place to hear directly and in person from your customer base. RED decided not to go because they aren’t ready with working versions of their newest cameras. I can’t help but think that they have missed an opportunity to focus this year on a display built around the various post production solutions. After all, the post workflow is the single biggest question mark for most current and potential RED One users.

 

This year will be the most inexpensive year in recent times to travel to Las Vegas. There are plenty of deals to be had in this down economy. So if you plan to go, I’m going to make it even easier with a free pass to see the exhibition. This pass includes access to the exhibit floor and the opening keynote (a $150 value). Simply visit nabshow.com/passport, register and use the Passport Code TP01 to redeem a free exhibits pass. And be sure to check out the Post Production conference, too.

 

© 2009 Oliver Peters