from NAB 2009…NAB 2009 Wrapup Discussion, by Matt Jeppsen
NAB Show bills itself as the world’s largest B2B media & entertainment event, and it’s hard to dispute that claim. In recent years they’ve made a conscious effort to focus on content creation and consumption, but there’s no denying that the tools, technology and social aspect of the event take center stage. It’s the place to see the people you work with, make some new contacts and find out about the latest developments from the biggest and smallest companies in the industry. It’s also a great platform for anyone who wants to learn from true industry professionals. Early April gets circled on the calendar for various reasons, but the fact that so many people mark these days off prove that it continues to have resonance.
A number of PVC writers are set to be at the event, and that’s in spite of comments over the last few years that have ranged from “you should have seen the show floor five years ago” to “this is my last NAB”. Some exhibitors have scaled back on their presence while potential attendees can check out the biggest news via a number of different sources either before, during or after the show itself. So why do so many people make sure they’re in Vegas every year? Why do the folks who are unable to make the trip still hold it in such high regard? Why do so many professionals still view it as an important part of their annual schedule?
2014 will be my 17th NAB in a row, but I actually attended my first one in 1979, when I was a junior at Boston University. I was attending the convention of Alpha Epsilon Rho, a student broadcasting organization, which was simultaneous to NAB. Other than getting to meet the awesome Gordon Jump – who played the general manager on a TV show called “WKRP In Cincinnati” – the highlight for my 20-year-old eyes was actually seeing (but not touching!) all the gear I was dying to get my hands on. Cameras, editors, remote trucks, you name it. I distinctly remember that NEC was demonstrating a voice-operated video switcher – in 1979! – that, probably thankfully, never made it to market. And if you think your desktop NLE is amazing, try controlling six 2″ quad tape decks with it, as CMX was demonstrating. (If memory serves, they were re-cutting an episode of “Sonny & Cher” as a demo.) The Las Vegas Convention Center as we know it was still fifteen or more years away from completion. You spent a lot of time on buses shuttling back and forth from the (then) Hilton convention space to the Sands Convention Center, which was demolished when the Wynn hotel was built, I think.
The biggest difference between then and now, though, is that the NAB was unabashedly a BROADCASTER’S show. No indy film, no small cameras, and the same manufacturer’s names over and over – RCA, Sharp, Hitachi, Sony, Grass Valley, Harris, Mole Richardson, MRC. I’m not even sure that Panasonic was a broadcast force at that point. Oh yeah – people smoked *everywhere.*
I started my current string of NABs in 1998. By then, the larger scope of the Convention Center was becoming apparent, although the South Hall wouldn’t open yet for a few years, so we still shuttled back & forth to the Sands. We were at the dawning of the DV era – remember that? It was magic, at the time – and alongside all the familiar broadcast names were some new ones, like Canopus, Matrox, Avid, Media 100, Adobe, JVC, Apple and more. (Actually, on further reflection I’m not sure that *all* of those folks were there by 1998, but they would show up within the next handful of years.) I remember spending a lot of time at the Canopus booth, trying to figure out in my head what the DVRaptor card did. Once I understood it, I bought one (I think it was $600+ in 90’s money!) and built my first DV edit box out of a relatively cheap (and overclockable) Dell Celeron 300mhz computer. I then built about 50 more, for friends and acquaintances that needed inexpensive editing. In that era I began writing for DV Magazine, and through that connection met all kinds of interesting folks like Jim Feeley, Scott Gentry, Gary Bettan from Videoguys, Chris and Trish Meyer, Adam Wilt and dozens more. Adam and I actually presented a camera session together back in 2000 or so. And to keep hydrated, it was Terry Curran that introduced me to the concept of the “Arnold Palmer” – half iced tea, half lemonade. Good tip! It is my great pleasure to run into all of them on the floor and catch up year after year.
Of course, an overview like this would be hollow if I didn’t point out the changes in the composition of the show. Many of the old broadcast names are gone, never to return. OTOH, when the RED tent showed up, with mile-long lines, you’d have to be pretty dense to not see that a big change was coming. And it isn’t just the indy film folks. One huge change I noticed: for over a decade Panasonic has held a dominating position in the Central Hall, on the entire width of an elevated stage-like platform that literally looks over the bulk of the rest of the floor. Two years ago, the Panny booth had shrunk by about a third. The new resident of this hallowed real estate?
GoPro. Didn’t see THAT one coming.
NAB is pretty much a one-stop shop for all the production equipment you could desire, and lots you will never need. In that context it’s quite a resource. I can see why some manufacturers, most notably Apple, have abandoned the show – it has become much less focused even as it has gotten larger. In the last five years, though, it actually seems to be getting smaller. You can see the pipe&drape walls in the back of the South Hall creeping ever closer to the middle, and attendance, while increasing slightly year after year, hasn’t come anywhere near the peaks of the pre-2008 recession years. Every year I ask myself if this is my last NAB, and I always say it is, and yet I always come back. It has become a tradition for me, much like deer camp is for other Wisconsinites – if I didn’t come I’d feel I missed something.
This makes my 26th NAB. For several years now I have felt like it should be my last. But it is so close to L.A. that it really isn’t much of an ordeal to go. And I have friends from around the world that I get to hook up with and spend quality time with face to face. That has become the primary appeal to me. That said, there was a time I was wowed by the technology. I still remember seeing the first Avid with it’s tiny square of pixels in the middle of a small screen making an almost watchable image. I couldn’t see then the change that was coming.
Now I find the most interesting areas in the tiny booths at the back with the newcomers. The reality is that there is nothing new to see at NAB. It has all been shown on the internet before you go there. So the concept of it being THE place to reveal a new product is dead for almost everyone except Blackmagic Design.
Howard Brock, Founder of the now defunct Matchframe Video in Burbank always said NAB went in two year cycles. One year they would announce some new tech (like 3D or 4K) and the next year they would actually have the tools and workflows. I am not sure that really applies anymore. Though one other saying of his still does and it’s the best description of NAB that I have heard. “NAB is the desperate selling the incomplete to the insolvent.”
If you are planning to go, bring very comfortable shoes and drink lots of water. Hope to see you there.
from NAB 2010…NAB Pix: Cameras, by Adam Wilt
The Pixel Painter
I’m probably the new kid on the block as I’ve only been attending NAB since 2002 and have been speaking at the Post|Production World Conference since 2004 (this will be my 9th year with them as I contracted with Adobe in 2012 to help with the CS6 roll-out on the Expo show floor). This year I’ll be hosting an off-site Aerial Videography field trip out in Nelson, NV on Sunday before the show opens, as part of the P|PW Conference sessions, followed up by some post-production techniques on Tuesday and I’ll be giving a Full-Day Green Screen Workshop on Wednesday (if you’re interested in these workshops, check out my schedule at this link: http://pixelpainter.com/nab-2014-workshops-field-trips/ ).
While much of my experience in the industry over the past 25 years has been in post-production, animation and motion graphics/VFX, I’ve been hurled into the digital video production space with many others whom have transitioned from film/tape to digital formats in both still and moving images over the past decade and a half.
Even in my relatively short time as an NAB Expo attendee since , I’ve seen huge changes on the show floor – especially in the North and Central Halls which used to be filled with enormous radio and television broadcast equipment, cameras, trucks, helicopters, etc… now replaced by rows of smaller booths featuring LED lights, micro audio and video accessories, and of course the expansion of digital camera booths. Even the South Hall has seen huge changes over the years where even Apple once had a huge presence – but it’s still where I tend to spend most of my time every year.
Times change and technology gets smaller and more affordable and the term “broadcast” doesn’t mean what it did 50 years ago (or even 15 years ago) – so NAB will continue to evolve as well. You never know what you’re going to see each year and I’ve never been disappointed. Last year, outside where the semis used to park I saw a guy demoing his Steadicam rig. And who can forget DJI’s booth next to GoPro with the flying quadcopters making their debut to the show. I’m personally excited about aerial videography taking off (pun intended) and can’t wait to see what new products will be announced this year.
I get a lot of gear and “stuff” to test and review all the time (a lot of which never sees time on PVC) and while some of it looks great in an online ad or marketing materials or a catalog page, much of it turns out to be total crap when you get your hands on it. Sometimes it costs more to return it than the price of the actual item, and I don’t know anybody who will pay for return shipping after you’ve bought something if it’s crap.
If you’re talking about small items or known, brand-name cameras, lenses, etc. so you know what you’re getting, then fine, but as others have mentioned, getting a chance to talk with a human, touch the devices and turn knobs, etc., you can quickly judge whether something is worth pursuing or wait until next year.
But it’s really about the people. I’ve made more long-term friends and connections as a result of in-person meetings at conferences over the past 25 years, and NAB is my one time a year I get to connect with many of them as well.
NAB is still a landmark opportunity for big announcements for companies positioning for some PR notability, so come Monday morning, the streams will be buzzing about the latest and greatest and fastest and biggest… and of course disappointments.
In the grand scheme of things I’m a relative newcomer to NAB. 2014 will only be the 5th or 6th NAB that I’ve attended. I was honored to be asked to teach at Post|Production World several years ago and will be doing the same again this year with both Avid Media Composer and Adobe Premiere Pro classes as well as sitting in on some panel discussions. I’m still humbled that an editor from Nashville, Tennessee gets to lead a session with greats editors from all over the world and discuss our business. That’s part of what NAB is all about: meeting people in person, sharing information and stories.
While the Internet has long declared trade shows dead because of the Internet I would argue just the opposite is true in the case of NAB. While products are announced long before the show floor opens, you can easily contact vendors via email and hundreds of links are available just from a Google search, the Internet has made the world such a small place (and your social circles so much bigger) that it takes a trade show like NAB to bring that world together. The world of social media means you often have often have extensive, deep and (hopefully) meaningful conversations with people you never would have had the opportunity to know outside the world of the Internet. While that is all well and good it’s being able to sit down in person over a meal or share a drink at the bar that makes those connections more meaningful. There isn’t near enough time in an NAB week to sit with all the folks you want to get to know better so even that short conversation on the show floor or the 10 minutes you see someone at an after hours event might be enough time to share a story and get a whole new perspective on that person that you’ve only seen through a 50 pixel icon.
By offering up education opportunities as well as events and parties beyond the trade show floor NAB is still able to attract a lot of attendees. If it was only the trade show would it still be relevant in this Internet age? Probably not as much but there’s still something to be said for touching the gear with your hands, physically comparing one product against another and speaking with the software developers in person that even makes the trade show worth it IMHO. That trade show space may be slowly shrinking but it’s still got a long way to go as it covers so much space in the Las Vegas Convention Center. While I don’t particularly enjoy Las Vegas it’ll be a sad day when it not worth making that trip once a year. I just can’t imagine that not happening.
from NAB 2011…Adobe Premiere Pro On ThunderBolt by Dave Helmly, by Scott Gentry
I have to echo Scott’s remarks. Mostly, I use the Internet to narrow my list and pinpoint vendors I need to visit.
How many people buy a car or a house over the Internet? There are some, but the number is small and I’ll wager it will remain small for years to come.
Same with our gear. Many times over the recent years I’ve found myself WAITING to make a purchase (be it large or small) in order to be able to “test drive” it at NAB. Touch it. Feel it. Kick the tires. The rep is right there for me to ask the questions as they occur to me. Will it do this? Can it do that?
Or being able to influence a design. Back in the hotel I study the material. Or I see that the product is missing a function I can use. Back to the show the next day. A chat with a product manager and Voila – functionality that hadn’t originally been considered is added.
Even if a purchase has already been made, there’s the chance to talk to the product team in one place – face to face – and understand why the product only does 24 bit audio instead of being able to choose between 16 bit and 24 bit (and possibly influence a firmware change (see above).
There’s the cross pollination that comes from catching up with folks from other parts of the country. As we sit talking over a meal or a drink or even just resting our tired feet at the show, discussions get started that result in statements like “Oh, I had that problem. You should talk to (insert name of vendor). They’re here at the show.”
And the social side. Seeing old friends from all over the country (world) in the only place one would ever cross paths with them. And getting to meet the new friends made over the preceding year via the internet on forums and blogs.
I don’t know that I’d relate buying gear or software online the same way I’d relate to buying a house or car over the internet, mostly because the majority of the gear we buy- at least for me- is through local resellers. Heck, I was with a friend at NAB last year who wanted to actually buy something and he couldn’t. Had to go to the local dealer. Sure, NAB is good for kicking the tires on something, but even there it’s questionable. Terry Curren and I were looking at monitors together a few years ago on the show floor and it’s very difficult to get the footage or test pattens you want to see on the show floor. They are trying to optimize the experience rather than giving you an honest look at their gear. We just wanted to see a plain gray field on a monitor to judge consistency across the raster and it took an act of Congress.
I get that NAB is a place to to talk to specific manufacturers about actual functionality. I’ve done that myself on the show floor. And, maybe it’s just me, but I tend to be able to do that (other than face-to-face, which is nice) with local visits or over the phone. Granted, in person is also very worthwhile, because they can put a name to a face and also be able to push back and hear counter-arguments to their pushbacks. The flip side of that is that those guys are also INUNDATED with that stuff, so I wonder how much in-floor interaction makes it back to the home office. I’ve been part of some manufacturers’ daily debrief sessions with “the troops” and they DO take notes, but I’ve also chatted up people at NAB that seem like they’re getting it, and then nothing happens. But those things have never been my focus at the show.
I have been to most NABs since my junior year in college, when I went because it coincided with the ACE (Award of Cable Excellence) Awards in 1984. That first NAB provided me with the contact that moved me from my tiny hometown in Upstate New York to Chicago. And that’s the heart of NAB for me: people and connections, not gear and technology.
For me, the value of being at NAB has changed for two main reasons. The internet and the trajectory of my career. In the 80s and 90s, NAB was really the only way you got a look at new gear. Back then there was much more hardware (cool stuff with lights and buttons) and much less software. Things were also comparatively expensive. Because I was young, I didn’t know many people, but used NAB as a chance to meet those who mentor me or influence my career. I was also working for TV stations, cable stations and post houses at the time and was shopping with someone else’s money. Also, in those early years, it was a huge chance to learn. Learning happened in the great classes on the weekend before NAB, but also in the booths of manufacturers, where you could ask questions that would be happily answered. The internet was a place that made noise when you logged on and was just getting BBS (bulletin board services) but there were no listserves or PVC from which to learn.
Since 2000, I have mostly worked for myself and, of course, the internet has come into much greater play in my ability to make decisions and see new things. It was also a time when I switched from student to teacher and consultant, with many of the last years spent as a hired gun for one manufacturer or another or as a speaker at Post World. But the big reason for NAB has definitely changed as my career has allowed me to know so many of my colleagues. It’s much more a chance to be together with people I respect and want to share knowledge and opinions with. There’s a casually organized annual luncheon of a secretive group I will simply call “the curmudgeons” that provides invaluable fellowship and unique insight that is impossible to replicate on the internet and would not be possible without a gathering of like minds for the purpose of the convention. It’s also one of the reasons that NAB is so exhausting. Because the real “NAB” time for me is not during the day, but during the night with events like the Editors Retreat get together, Avid Master Editors dinner or various beta group dinners, the CML party, The Mixing Light mixer, and the numerous bigger events like the Media Motion ball. And as you get older and wiser, you understand the importance of the friendships and counsel that you rely on through the year. NAB is the opportunity to renew those friendships and cement bonds that will get you through the coming year.
from NAB 2012…Overshadowed at NAB, by Mark Spencer
I won’t waste time repeating the great points that others have already made. I will note that there are some things that, for the most part, we can only see at big shows like NAB, in part because the great concentration of industry folks makes such things worth showing.
This year, one such thing is NHK’s 8K broadcast demo, the first time an 8K transmission within a single 6MHz broadcast channel has been shown outside of Japan. There will also be a live HDR (high dynamic range) demo that I’m eager to see. In general, the NAB Labs Futures Park is well worth visiting, despite its exile to the distant, northeastern-most corner of the North Hall. Most of the show floor shows us what’s real now (or will be in a few months, say, at IBC in Amsterdam); the Labs exhibits point us toward things that might be real in coming years.
Oh, I will reiterate one point: interaction with vendors. The big shows are often the only times that hardware and software engineers are released from their corporate dungeons and allowed to interact with actual customers. Even if it’s just suits in the booths, the big shows are still the most intense face-to-face meetings between the folks who make the stuff and the folks who want to buy it.
I’ve been on both sides of these interactions, and they’ve been extremely valuable. When I’ve been demoing stuff I’ve worked on, the conversations I’ve had with show attendees and the questions they’ve asked have both deepened and expanded my understanding of how the products are actually being used and what customers want, and this has helped me develop more customer-focused designs with better, more efficient workflows. When I’ve hassled vendors with my own impertinent demands, I’ve learned a lot more about both the capabilities and the limitations of the products, and this has helped me make more informed choices and has shown me unknown capabilities in kit I already use.
So don’t just look at the pretty blinking lights: talk to people. Tell ’em what you like, what you don’t like, and what it is you really want their gear to do for you. Ten minutes chatting with a demo-dog can be far more enlightening – for both parties – than a month of back-and-forth on a message board.
I don’t like Vegas.
I don’t like casinos.
I don’t like being in large rooms with lots of people, lots of sounds, and no windows.
Yet every year for the past decade I make the trek to NAB. And I actually look forward to it.
Well, first, I love to teach, and the folks that come to the Post Production sessions are always extremely high-caliber: interested in the topic, engaged, full of questions and enthusiasm. It’s a great venue for concentrated learning, and it’s really fun to teach there.
Like many other, I relish the chance to connect in person with people that I only related to over email or text or in forums over the course of the year. It’s so rewarding to talk with my peers, to meet customers who have learned from my tutorials, and to make new friends – absolutely invaluable and in and of itself worth braving the insanity that is Vegas.
And the show floor – so huge, so overwhelming – frankly, some years, my teaching schedule has been so packed that I haven’t had more than a half-hour to explore the show. This year is different, and I’m excited to get my hands on some gear and talk to vendors. A couple of my favorite things to check out on the floor are the Plugin Pavilion, to meet all my favorite developers; the Maxon booth, to watch the incredible demos (yes you can watch them online, but at the show you can meet all these great artists and ask questions); and then I like to get out of the South Hall and explore all the new lighting and rig options in the Central Hall.
I know I’ll be ready to go home when it’s over – there’s only so much hotel life I can stand and I miss my family pretty quickly – but once again I’m looking forward to an exciting and rewarding trip to NAB.
Stunning Good Looks
You have to pay me to go to NAB.
It’s not that I don’t want to go, but I never went until Element Labs paid me to set up a process shot on the show floor using LED lighting arrays back in 2007. I did that for two years, and then DSC Labs hired me to train customers in their booth. I’ve been back ever since on their dime.
I love to see all the new toys, but I don’t like taking time off work as I make more money doing that than geeking out. Still, I love geeking out and as I go back year after year I meet more people, hear more about the “hot things” before I get there and plan my schedule accordingly, and hear more whispers from influential people about what’s coming… and what’s not.
I’m now moving in the “consulting circles,” where those of us who make a side business (or, in some cases, a living) telling manufacturers how to make new products get together and talk about all the cool things we’ve been working on that aren’t covered under NDA. (It’s always interesting when I ask someone a pointed question and they become strangely silent.) It’s like finding a hidden layer of NAB geekiness underneath the NAB that everyone else gets to see. It’s like exploring the catacombs under Paris, except the catacombs have been replaced by really smart people who like to drink. (A lot.)
The best part, though, is seeing the people that I only get to hang out with once a year. I’ve made friends all over the world, and this is my chance to catch up with them in person. If I wasn’t getting paid to go to NAB, connecting with all these people is the strongest argument I have for attending.
I do love wandering around on my day off and seeing all the cool new stuff, but unless I have a side door into a company it’s hard to find anyone on the show floor who can answer the kinds of questions I tend to ask. The smaller manufacturers are a bit more forthcoming. Larger manufacturers are often spread so thin it’s hard to find anyone who isn’t a superficial marketing flack, who can only talk up the bullet points but doesn’t know how anything actually works under the hood. (It’s the car shopping equivalent of, “Yes, it’s got a V-8 engine! No, I don’t know what that really means! It’s something to do with gas.”) Still, even without getting the inside story there’s an awful lot to see. One day isn’t nearly enough to see all the good stuff. I think I’d need three days to pull that off.
Maybe someday I’ll pay my own way and see all of it.
For several decades, NAB has been a yearly highlight for me. I have been attending NAB since the mid 1980s, with a single absence since then. NAB is when I get to see friends & colleagues from the US, the Americas, Asia, Australia, Europe, the UK, and the rest of the world. Some of these are journalists and content producers, while others are from manufacturers, with whom we reflect on their new announcements and —when appropriate— make constructive criticisms. Although I maintain contact with many of them via telephone and email, nothing beats actually seeing each other face to face. Even when we do communicate later via email or telephone, the yearly dosage of seeing each other face to face enriches that distant communication with a recent memory.
From NAB 2011… Rotor Concepts, by Bruce Johnson
I’ve only gone to NAB twice in my life. This would have been between the 2001-2003 era. I actually lived in Las Vegas at the time and remember the general dislike for the flood of tourists each convention would bring. A feeling felt by many locals of Vegas, at least back then. I remember my first time going to NAB, it was like I had entered the future. Lots of interactive camera displays, random utility equipment, MoCap setups, real time green screen keying. At the time I was an independent filmmaker head first in the MiniDV craze. Proud to know a Canon GL1 and XL1 inside and out. NAB was one if the coolest things I had ever seen. The tech was stuff I had only read about and wanted so badly. Honestly the only way I would every touch a baseball spec’d broadcast camera. The experience of meeting some reps from the giants in the industry and learning about new tech that nobody in my social circle had heard of was incredible. It was a great place for a young 25’ish year old to find inspiration for the field I was wanting to be in. There wasn’t much wheeling and dealing for me, it was more of a kid in a Candy shoppe scenario. The second time I went, two years later, it wasn’t as glamorous, the tech progression was better than the last time, but it didn’t feel as awe inspiring as that first time. I think getting that first experience, showed me how far away I was from the big boys and pushed me to get up to speed, so by the next time around I was pretty close to being in the know so it wasn’t as fun. It just became business. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed it, and walked by Sinbad while there, but it didn’t have the same impact on me. After that, I was perfectly fine with reading the reports of online sites about what NAB showed off. Still am today. Work schedule mostly prevents me from going now-a-days. That and I’m pretty over Vegas after living there 19 years. I do have lots of friends there, so I can’t write it off completely though. : )
I think the experience of NAB holds a lot of value to the up and coming, the startups trying to get the word out in a personal way (meet and greet style), and obviously for Vegas it holds a financial gain economy wise.
For me, NAB is a chance to reconnect with friends and peers. I’ve been coming since 2006, and we did FreshDV video coverage of the tradeshow from 2007-2013. And I’ve had the opportunity to meet many amazing people along the way. It is great to be able to get your hands on the cool new gear at NAB, but the real value for me is in the conversations you have along the way. Sometimes it’s getting insight on a technical or creative issue you’ve been having, or maybe it’s just venting about production minutiae with people that understand. And these relationships carry beyond the walls of the Las Vegas Convention Center…I now regularly work with several of the friends that I first met in person at NAB. In the future I may not always have time to attend the NAB show every year, but it will always feel like home to me. I’m looking forward to catching up with old friends in a few weeks…see you there.