Is the NAB Show going the way of COMDEX?

For those that don’t know, COMDEX was a computer centric convention that ran in Las Vegas from 1979 to 2003 before lagging attendance from competing conventions and the convergence of consumer electronic devices ultimately made it uninteresting and killed it off.

Back in November of 2007 Avid, currently facing too much competition from Final Cut software and currently trading at its lowest point since early 2003, declared it would not have its usual ginormous booth at the convention, but would still have a presence there conducting meetings with customers in an attempt to regain their “focus”.  Their disappointing financials and not-so-optimistic view of their 2008 expectations undoubtedly had something to do with this decision.

Apple recently took a beating in their stock as analysts worry about their future and has announced that they will not be attending NAB 2008 either.  If you haven’t attended NAB recently or were stuck in endless meetings or don’t remember, Apple had a HUGE booth presence in the South Hall and were extremely busy almost every day of the convention.  There is no doubt that the Apple product displays and demos were the driving reason for a number of attendees.  Apple can afford to save the huge expense of setting up and running a booth at NAB (and other conventions) because, unlike Avid, Apple has brick and mortar retail stores across the country.  Apple also serves customers other than the narrow focus of broadcast and post-production businesses.

We’re talking about some on-site business opportunities with Apple

– Dennis Wharton, Spokesman for NAB (Read: we really need the money from that huge booth space they occupy)

But the real topic of this post is not the viability of those two companies, it’s about the viability of the annual NAB show.

As I have attended this convention every year over the past 10+  years I have seen it shrink in size despite its attempt to widen its scope and appeal to attendees.  When I first began attending this convention it spanned the LV Hilton (North and South halls), the Sands Convention Center and the parking lot in front of the LV Hilton North Hall was FULL of sat trucks, mobile production trucks and news vans.  The entire LV Hilton was all bout broadcasting gear, cameras, production equipment and transmitters.  The computer side of the business was represented at the Sands and you took a bus to get there, consequently only a fraction went over there (typically the last day of the convention) and usually those that went were not broadcasters but were editors, graphic designers and amateur film makers interested in that aspect of the business anyway.  However, in 2007 (like the past few years) the convention only spanned the LV Hilton North and South Halls with a smattering of trucks, vans and trailers occupying the space between the halls.  There has even been enough room in the convention to include the RTNDA convention in a few ballrooms and halls of the LV Hilton itself.

In addition to the steadily shrinking number of vendors, the number of attendees is erratic although it seems to be on the upswing this year and last, yet the number of credentialed media attendees is down 80 to 1,214 in 2007 :

NAB Attendance:

There is little doubt that when the NAB incorporated the RTNDA in 2003 and diluted the confab by bringing in non-traditional broadcast vendors like Apple and Microsoft, served up conferences focused on podcasting and IPTV and brought in a slew of smaller companies and start-ups to the South Hall over the years  (mostly because of the convergence of technologies) that it helped attendance.  However, as traditional broadcast radio and television become more and more ignored and broadcaster purchasing budgets get tighter each year it can only serve to hurt this convention as it gets confused with (and pales in comparison to) CES.

As increasing number of broadcast vendors cut back on their traditional offerings and the changes continue to be evolutionary – not revolutionary, it will be interesting to see if any other companies decide to forgo the convention prior to the event, what the real attendance shakes out to be and who bothers to go next year.

Looking back over the next few years this may be the most attended broadcaster’s convention in many years, even if it has very little to do with “broadcasting” any longer.