The National Association of Broadcasters is cautiously optimistic that its annual convention in Las Vegas this year will cross the 100,000 threshold in attendance for the first time since the dot-com heyday earlier this decade. That is a welcome change for the biggest broadcasting convention of the year, which saw attendance plummet to 87,000 just two years ago.
Conference organizers expect the 2005 number to rise into the six figures, buoyed by a series of fresh topics, such as Internet protocol television and high-definition and mobile content as well as a host of keynoters, including HDNet President Mark Cuban, CNN President Jonathan Klein and Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg.
Front and center at the convention will be discussions of key Washington issues such as indecency and the end of the digital transition. About 1,500 stations are on-air with digital signals now, leaving only 200 or so local broadcasters in the smallest markets to flip the switch on digital. Most prime-time broadcast content is now carried in HD, as are most high-profile sporting events. The question now is how quickly will consumers buy HD sets, said Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the NAB.
That could happen soon. A March study by the Consumer Electronics Association found that nearly half of consumers intend to buy an HD set when they make their next TV purchase. CEA said the number of HD sets shipped to retailers hit 16.3 million at the end of 2004, a number that is predicted to rise to 36 million by the end of this year.
In preparation for the eventual conversion to offering local news in HD, equipment providers on the show floor will demonstrate more affordable HD cameras for local stations. Only a few stations are broadcasting HD news now, but as costs drop, more are likely to follow.
Another hot tech topic will be IPTV and what it means for broadcasters. With telephone companies gearing up to deploy video services in a big way, broadcasters are increasingly peppering the term “IPTV” throughout their conversations. While IPTV actually refers to the delivery of TV signals over an IP infrastructure, many people use it to denote “telco TV.” SBC, for one, is using an IP infrastructure, while Verizon is not yet [see related story].
Nevertheless, Mr. Seidenberg, in his keynote address at the show, is expected to discuss the traction Verizon hopes to gain in the video area, using a Fiber to the Premises architecture.
“Broadcasters are excited about IP, and it’s another platform for delivering our product,” Mr. Wharton said. The prospect of a third distribution platform could be a point of leverage for broadcasters, he said.
“We are on cable and satellite, and we think that our programming is valuable and we can play one off the other and use that leverage to create a new revenue stream for local TV,” he said. “We do have retransmission consent rights, and every three years cable and satellite operators negotiate for the rights to carry local TV stations. One of the opportunities for broadcasters in that vein is to use this negotiation to perhaps create a revenue stream where cable or satellite pays a right to carry that stream.”
Some industry experts use the term IPTV more broadly. CNN’s Mr. Klein, who will address the subject, defines it simply as the ability to provide portable video. “IPTV is nothing more than taking advantage of digital distribution to make our news available on any kind of device wherever a viewer wants to watch it,” he said.
During his keynote, HDNet’s Mark Cuban is expected to discuss what’s next in HD and then lead into a session on sports and reality programming on mobile devices.
New Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin will partake in a one-on-one conversation with outgoing NAB President and CEO Eddie Fritts.
Other super-sessions will be led by speakers from Hewlett Packard, Adobe Systems and Avid and will address convergence, video publishing and the transition to HD. All super-sessions will start with keynotes and lead into panel discussions.
The NAB show runs April 16-21, with the exhibit floor open starting April 18. The association expects more than 1,400 exhibitors, up from 1,392 last year. In 2002, the show had about 1,500 exhibitors.
Among those receiving awards at NAB are Clear Channel Communications Chairman Lowry Mays, who will receive the 2005 Distinguished Service Award; and CBS News anchor Charles Osgood, the 2005 recipient of the Paul White Award from the Radio-Television News Directors Association. The RTNDA convention runs simultaneously with the NAB show.
Highlights from the NAB Conference Schedule
Selected events at the upcoming NAB show in Las Vegas
Monday, April 18
All-Industry Opening Ceremony
“Convergence and Content on the Move: Riding the Digital, Mobile, Virtual and Personal Wave”
Keynote speaker: Shane Robison, executive VP, chief strategy and technology officer, Hewlett-Packard
Tuesday, April 19
“Video: The Next Wave
Keynote speaker: Steve Saylor, VP of digital video and audio, Adobe Systems
“IPTV: The Technology and Market Outlook”
Keynote speaker: Jonathan Klein, president, CNN/US
“Look Before You Leap: The Dollars and Sense of Transitioning to HD”
Keynote speaker: David Krall, president and CEO, Avid
Wednesday, April 20
“Taking It to the Streets: Mobile Devices Add Drama to Sports & Reality
Keynote speaker: Mark Cuban, president, HDNet
“New Technologies for Digital Media”
Keynote speaker: Kenneth Williams, CEO, Ascent Media