NAB 2007: Broadcasters Confront Digital Deadline

Apr 16, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Conference Puts Focus on New Technologies and Platforms as Panels Offer Varied Perspectives on Innovation and International Interest in Event Continues to Grow

By Debra Kaufman, Special to TelevisionWeek

On Feb. 17, 2009, the last analog broadcast station will power down. The tick-tock of that deadline will be a persistent drum beat at this year’s National Association of Broadcasters convention, which runs through Thursday at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

In addition to a focus on the looming transition to DTV, NAB 2007 will highlight new technologies and platforms, from IPTV to mobile, in one-day conferences, Super Sessions and exhibits.

NAB 2007 also will celebrate its history, bestowing its highest honor, the Distinguished Service Award, on legendary TV producer David L. Wolper and inducting NBC’s “Meet the Press” — the longest-running TV news program on network television, now celebrating its 60th anniversary — into its Broadcasters Hall of Fame. Tim Russert, moderator and managing editor of “Meet the Press,” will be on hand to accept the award, while Mr. Wolper planned to accept via videotape.

The annual NAB show, one of the largest conventions in Las Vegas, and thus the nation, has grown again this year. “We’re expecting over 105,000 attendees, topping last year’s number of 105,046,” said NAB spokesman Kristopher Jones. “As of now, we have 1,527 exhibitors, which is also a jump from last year’s 1,464.”

International attendance has grown in significance in the past few years, with 25,000 foreign visitors representing 141 countries at last year’s show. This year will break the record for international delegations: 82 compared with last year’s 72. The NAB 2007 exhibit floor also features more than 470 international corporations.

“With a trade show of our size, typically 10 percent come from foreign countries,” said Dennis Wharton, NAB’s senior VP of corporate communications. “In our show, it’s closer to 25 percent to 33 percent. It’s truly a global convention.”

NAB 2007 also will grow in square footage. This year the convention takes over two more rooms in the North Hall, for a total of 900,000 net square feet. According to Mr. Jones, the layout of the exhibit floor will be radically redesigned, grouping exhibitors by their role in the TV production workflow, more evenly distributing the “anchor” exhibitors throughout the exhibit space and making the notoriously confusing floor easier to navigate.

“This year the exhibitors will be divided into acquisitions and production, post-production, management and systems, distribution and delivery, display systems, pro audio, radio and outdoor media and equipment,” said Mr. Jones. Also new this year is a “Content Village,” featuring content owners, producers and aggregators, which will be housed in the Central Hall.

NAB’s opening keynote draws the big guns, and NAB 2007 is no exception. In addition to NAB President and CEO David K. Rehr, who will focus on the state of the broadcasting industry, Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu will discuss the continued vital role of broadcasters in post-Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts. “American Idol” finalist Katharine McPhee is the musical guest.

Previous NAB conventions have focused on DTV, but with the 2009 deadline for the transition, the issue assumes more urgency. “The countdown is on,” said Mr. Jones. As a trade organization, NAB is gearing up for a multimillion-dollar marketing push to educate Americans about the transition to digital. That conversation also will take place at various venues at NAB 2007.

NAB’s Mr. Rehr will moderate a Wednesday panel, “The Global Picture on DTV Deployment,” headlined by international broadcast representatives, government officials and DTV experts, focused on marketing campaigns in countries that have undergone or are nearing the transition from analog to digital television.

“They’ll discuss what worked and what didn’t work,” Mr. Jones said. “And NAB will discuss its plans so the 73 million analog-only TV sets continue to work after the 2009 transition.”

At the DTV Transition booth, in the grand lobby of the Convention Center, attendees will be able to see a live demonstration of how a digital converter box transforms a signal from analog to digital. And on the exhibit floor, in the South Hall, the ATSC DTV HotSpot2007, co-hosted by NAB and the Advanced Television Systems Committee, will showcase the most sophisticated technologies in digital television, as well as the ACAP Field Trial Project and an NAB/MSTV demonstration of high-performance, easy-to-use DTV converter boxes for consumers.

NAB 2007 also introduces new one-day conferences and Super Sessions. “It’s all about staying relevant,” said Mr. Wharton. “We made a conscious decision 20 years ago, when NAB was only a broadcast convention, as to whether we wanted to introduce attendees to all the new media they’d be competing with. The decision was made to expand the show beyond broadcasting to cable, satellite, cell phones — and the response from attendees has been overwhelming.”

Three new events debuting at this year’s show are the Telecom@NAB2007 conference series and exhibition, for telecom professionals and network operators; the Sports Technology Forum, focusing on practical solutions to sports production challenges for HD, broadband and mobile devices; and a Super Session on Internet protocol TV.

Telecom@NAB2007, co-produced by telecom industry consulting firm Lightbulb Communications, addresses video deployment by next-generation telecom network operators, telecom professionals and telecom and business entrepreneurs. The conference is broken down into five parts, featuring telecom technology papers, a broadband video conference, a telecom video production crash course, telecom supplier exhibits and customized and guided tours of the main NAB exhibit floor.

“Telecom companies will pose competition for cable operators, and that’s exciting,” Mr. Jones said. “This is recognition of a new outlet that broadcast and video providers can utilize to get their content out.”

NAB and partner Sports Video Group will launch the Sports Technology Forum, with the aim of helping producers overcome the challenges of producing professional sports video. Sports content is a strong driver of consumer adoption of DTV, and the forum features panels, moderated by sports network, league and technology leaders and made up of top sports broadcast and production players, that provide information about tools and technologies. A highlight of the forum will be a presentation by NBA Senior VP of Operations and Technology Steve Hellmuth, who will demonstrate 3-D HD video using highlights of the NBA All-Star Game.

The Super Session “IPTV: Market Outlook 2010” focuses on the future of Internet protocol television in an increasingly competitive environment, including the phone companies’ push into video delivery.

In its second year, MoTV: Mobile TV and Video Forum, produced by NAB and iHollywood Forum, looks at TV and video on cell phones. Speakers include Qualcomm’s Paul Jacobs, HBO’s Robert M. Zitter and Sony Digital Entertainment’s Michael Arrieta. The conference examines two emerging business models: a “one-to-one,” in which users pick the video-on-demand or streaming video content they want over the mobile Internet; and a “one-to-many” that more closely models television over a dedicated spectrum.

“It’s all about exposing broadcasters to the latest in communication technology, whether it’s satellite, Internet or mobile phone delivery,” Mr. Wharton said. “Our goal is to have broadcast programming on every gadget that comes out.”

NAB traditionally has attracted high-level industry executives as speakers and moderators. This year Eric Schmidt, CEO and chairman of the executive committee for Google, headlines the Super Session “Innovator Spotlight: View From the Top” on Monday. Mr. Schmidt is expected to address Google’s impact on the future of radio, television, advertising and the public.

Other keynoters include Tom Rogers, president-CEO of TiVo, at the NAB Technology Luncheon; MTV founder and former Time Warner E
nterprises CEO Robert Pittman, founding member of private investment firm Pilot Group, at Super Session “Venture Capital — Where the Innovators Are Investing Dollars”; David Eun, VP of content partnerships for Google, at “The Revolutionizing Impact of Broadband Video”; and Shen Tong, founder and president of digital content delivery company VFinity, at the “Social Networking in the 21st Century” Super Session.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin will speak at a special event on Wednesday, April 18, and FCC Commissioners Michael Copps, Jonathan Adelstein and Deborah Taylor Tate will speak Tuesday as part of the Broadcast Regulatory & Legislative Conference, where attendees can interact with federal regulators, Capitol Hill insiders and legal experts.

Another key event is the Paul White Award ceremony Monday, at which the Radio-Television News Directors Association, led by President Barbara Cochran, will honor CNN’s chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour.

As broadcast’s biggest schmoozefest, NAB is also an ideal spot for recruiting new talent. Top broadcasters, including CBS, Univision, CNN/Turner Broadcasting and Sony, will seek new hires at the annual career fair, held by the NAB Education Foundation in conjunction with the Broadcast Education Association and RTNDA.

“NAB is the place to be,” Mr. Jones said. “I’m amazed every time, to see a city built in a week’s time and torn apart a week later.”

NAB 2007
Billed as: The world’s largest electronic media show
Where: Las Vegas Convention Center
When: Through Thursday, April 19
Details: www.nabshow.com