NAB exerts a mysterious pull

Posted: 05.08.06

LasVegasCompanies need a venue—they are hungry for a place to speak

I remember the party we had in 2001, the “Thank god we don’t have to go to Comdex” party. We had it several times years later—it was always a relief to skip that and the drudgery of Las Vegas.

CES was nice in 2002 and 2003, mostly because it was small enough to be managed by Las Vegas’s sadly inadequate infrastructure and brain-dead city administration. (What!? Make all westbound streets from the convention hall one-way at quitting time?)

Now CES has ballooned to the point where it has cast a shadow over Comdex, and Las Vegas is just as impossible as 1999. It was never a fun place to go anyway if you don’t gamble or like to watch women take off their clothes. Time was you could get a decent meal at a decent price; now the restaurants, good as they are, are as expensive and snooty or more so than the “finest” in San Francisco. Do I need to fly to L.V. to get that?

See any chipsets or GPUs in here?

And who can deny the sheer joy of standing in a taxi queue for 45 minutes to an hour-plus when you land? So for me L.V. is a drudgery I can do without, and have done so this year on NAB. NAB used to be a fun—discover stuff, show. I saw my first HDTV system at NAB in the late eighties, on a 25-inch Sony CRT, and was blown away. There’s a market that has just exploded—in less than 20 years it’s just about to take off, wow.

I’m also considering skipping CES next year. Not that I hate the show, I don’t; I love it. I hate not being able to get anywhere in less than an hour and half in Las Vegas. IBC, CeBit, and even Computex are so much better organized, and those cities are much much more fun than Las Vegas. (It just occurred to me why—it’s because they are real cities, not some made-up seniors’ kiddyland.)

So why go to L.V.? Indeed. Forget L.V. for a moment, I think I’ve made that point. The bigger question is why has NAB suddenly become so important? NAB?

The “B” in NAB stands for, read this carefully—broadcasters. Note the plural on that? Broadcasters—the folks who broadcast; the people with the transmission towers and the big expensive cameras and microphones. The studio guys with big control boards and all those sliders on them, and the rows of monitors and clocks. Broadcasters—not chipset suppliers, not GPU suppliers, not paint program suppliers, not operating system suppliers.

And yes, broadcasters do use all those things, they also use trucks, step ladders, coffee pots, swivel chairs, and toilet paper. Do you really think a broadcaster gives one second’s hoot about what chipset might be in the PC he’s using as file server for the top 10 hits?

We could have this argument for quite a while and probably not convince each other. But I think the question exposes a bigger issue.

Are the suppliers of these non-broadcaster-specific parts so desperate for a venue to show off their their esoteric little parts that they will go to any show, any place, any time? Answer: Yes. And it’s ridiculous.

Since I’m not going to NAB and you are, I’m giving you an assignment. Write down every company’s name that you find at NAB who doesn’t have a logical and obvious reason for being there and send it to me and I’ll publish it (without your name, of course—that’s called a protected source, and I’ll even go to jail before I’ll reveal your name, honest).

My other favorite exercise, which I call Jon’s Marketing Class 102, is to take a client on a tour of a show and have him or her tell me in 20 seconds or less what the any given stand has for sale. And believe it or not, 20 seconds is a long time—it only takes 1.5 seconds to walk by a stand. (In some cases I defy the observer to even find the company’s name on the stand’s banners.)

And if you’re an exhibitor at NAB, tell me what your product has to do with broadcasters. I’ll also print the best answers to that question. And, just to keep you honest, you must also tell me what percentage of your stand that product occupies.

So have fun in Las Vegas, glad I won’t be there with you. I’ll miss you, but not that inoperable town.