By Lee Alan Hill
Special to TelevisionWeek
The news headlines in not just television but feature films as well during the past year have signaled that a new age in content delivery is dawning, as iPods, cellphone programming, digital distribution of movies and other technological advances gain popularity. The National Association of Broadcasters’ 2006 convention, running through Thursday at the Las Vegas Convention Center, reflects this changing climate.
Conferences and summits will herald this “new generation” with companies such as Verizon and Nokia-known for mobile technology-exhibiting and rubbing shoulders with programmers and broadcasters for the first time at NAB.
“When you think of the NAB you think of an organization that focuses on government representatives on behalf of over-the-air radio and TV broadcasters,” said Dennis Wharton, the Washington-based organization’s senior VP of corporate communications and himself a former trade reporter who used to cover NAB’s terrain.
“But when it comes to the convention, you’re talking about much more,” he said. “This is far and away the largest electronics show in the world. Last year $30.4 billion in business was generated at this show.
“Even 15 years ago you would have seen a show that did not offer too much outside of the broadcast borders,” Mr. Wharton added. “Now it’s a place where the partnerships of broadcasters with cellphone providers happen.”
The increasingly international and cross-media attendance reflects the status of NAB 2006. It is expected that there will be more than 100,000 attendees, a fifth of them from foreign countries and territories.
NAB notes that prior to the opening ceremonies 68 foreign delegations recognized by the U.S. State Department already were expected to attend, including a contingent of elected members of the Parliament of the Philippines.
Many of the delegations from outside the U.S. are attending NAB through a partnership with the Department of Commerce’s International Buyer Program. The NAB points out that thanks to this partnership, NAB expects 20 percent of its attendees to come from the international sector-far greater than most trade shows in North America, which draw 5 percent to 10 percent from overseas.
There will also be more than 300 exhibitors from foreign countries on the floor, including pavilions from Bavaria (Germany), France, Belgium, South Korea, China and the United Kingdom.
‘A City in Las Vegas’
The record attendance for an NAB convention is 113,000, in 2000. Mr. Wharton said the organization could not predict whether this year’s number would go higher, but it was
confident it would top last year’s 104,000.
This makes the NAB arguably one of the last of the full-service trade associations to put on a convention of this size. Perhaps only the Consumer Electronics Association’s show can claim to be a rival.
“There are buyers and sellers from 130 different countries,” Mr. Wharton said. “They come for different reasons, but overall it is because this is the convention where what’s new is on display. We have 1,400 exhibiting companies and the seminars and conferences that deal with the latest technology and issues.”
This is why, he said, “When you walk on the exhibition floor or the summits you’ll see Bill Gates, you’ll see representatives from Microsoft and Panasonic and the big guns right alongside the mom-and-pops.
“We create a city in Las Vegas,” he said. “We have people from Malaysia who come and may not even realize what the NAB does with legislators and the FCC in Washington. And probably they don’t care-but that’s OK. The NAB 2006 is where they can be exposed to the latest in technology and business opportunities.”
While companies often wait until the convention to unveil their latest product offerings to gain maximum press exposure, John Marino, NAB’s VP of science and technology, said eyes will be on the emerging mobile television and compression technologies this year.
“You’ve got broadcasting industry and content producers who want to team up with mobile distributors,” he said. “The producers need to know what it is going to take to repurpose their content to be used on those small little cellular or iPod screens. What will play? What might be original programming?”
Focus on New Frontier
NAB 2006 will focus on this new frontier in a variety of ways, including the “MoTV: Mobile, Video & TV Forum” on Tuesday and the “Web & Mobile Development Conference” on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Willem deZoete, VP and general manager for HP Digital Entertainment Service, will be the keynote speaker for the Multimedia World segment of NAB 2006, which includes the “MoTV” and “Web & Mobile Development Conference” offerings.
The organizers also expect to see a larger contingent of motion picture professionals in attendance, particularly for the six-day NAB Post/Production World Conference, produced in association with Future Media Concepts, which was scheduled to run through Wednesday, and the Digital Cinema Summit, which was set for Saturday and Sunday, where Academy Award-winning director James Cameron was to deliver the keynote address.
John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theatre Owners, was slated to address the Digital Cinema Summit.
“Motion picture professionals are looking for digital technologies at lower prices,” Mr. Marino said. “And so are freelancers who want to do it themselves in their own homes. There is great interest in digital production techniques and software packages, particularly for post-production.”
As such, Apple’s Final Cut Pro, AVID and Adobe are among the companies both exhibiting at the convention and involved in the panels, presentations and demonstrations at the Post/Production World Conference.
NAB predicted that those attending this conference will be exposed to “high-level training.”
“What we’re going to discover is that the home market for these technologies is a new and growing one,” Mr. Marino said. “You’re going to see, for example, the prices of HD cameras coming way down. New display technologies are also going to see dramatic price reductions, probably by the end of summer. Movie producers are also interested in this.”
Dylan Tichenor, the film editor of the award-winning feature “Brokeback Mountain,” and Hughes Winborne, who won an Academy Award for editing for “Crash,” will be the keynote speakers for the NAB post-conference.
Another growing area is being addressed in a “Technologies for Worship” conference, running through Thursday. NAB expected a 50 percent increase in attendance from last year among religious-based groups at this event.
“Many houses of worship are telecasting,” Mr. Marino said. “They’re getting into HD and audio Surround Sound to enhance the experience for their parishioners and congregants.
“That’s one reason, for example, you’ll see Sony having a presence at the ‘Technologies for Worship’ conference. Companies such as Sony are looking at this market as a brand-new one for them, just as the corporate market is also looking to HD.”
The NAB attendees themselves will have access to HD coverage of the convention events. Most of the hotels in Las Vegas will offer convention coverage in-room, and at The Wynn Hotel, each room has an HD TV.
Some of the programming provided will be broadcast from Las Vegas-area sites, such as the Hoover Dam, and be tailored to demonstrate the very new technologies discussed at the conferences and on display in the exhibit hall.
Time for Awards
As this is an industrywide convention, there will, of course, be time for awards. Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather, who recently retired as anchors of the evening newscasts of NBC and CBS, respectively, and their counterpart at ABC, the late Peter Jennings, will be honored with the Distinguished Service Award.
Regis Philbin, best known as the host of the Buena Vista daytime talk show “Li
ve With Regis and Kelly,” will be inducted into the NAB Hall of Fame.
Emilio Nicolas Sr. and his late father-in-law, Raoul Cortez, will receive NAB’s Spirit of Broadcasting Award in recognition of their pioneering of Spanish-language television in the United States. Mr. Nicolas is one of the co-founders of Spanish International Network and is now retired from broadcasting. Since his early days the Spanish-language television industry has become valued in the billions of dollars.
The Distinguished Service Awards are scheduled to be bestowed at Monday’s opening ceremony, at which time David Rehr, NAB president and CEO, is slated to deliver the annual State of the Industry Address, his first since he joined the organization almost a year ago.