2009 NAB Show: Down But Not Out

By Carl Lindemann

One of the greatest attractions of NAB 2009 was curiosity “ and concern “ for the attendance. The numbers of those coming to the show was obviously going to be down reflecting the economic downturn. But how far down? Now, the numbers are in from NAB. Registered attendees came in at just under 84,000 “ down from last year’s 104,000.

“We couldn’t be more happy having less than a 20% drop off while other shows have been having an attendance meltdown,” said Dennis Wharton, the NAB’s senior vice president, corporate communications. “There’s no reason to panic after this show. I have to admit that we came here jittery, but we’re leaving with renewed optimism that (as the expression goes) ‘this, too, shall pass.’

How does this compare to previous downturns? The high watermark of the Dot Com boom peaked with 115,000 attendees in 2001 dropping to 92,000 in 2002. The bottom came the following year with a low of 88,000. Here, the bubble inflated to a peak of 110,000 in 2007. Now, after two down years, it’s anyone’s guess what NAB 2010 will bring.

“We have to be optimistic because to do otherwise is unthinkable,” said Wharton.

Going hall-to-hall, perceptions varied as to the level of the year’s drop off. For Harris, North Hall wasn’t as bad as feared.

“We came expecting the worst, and so were pleasantly surprised by good traffic on Monday and Tuesday,” said David Cohen, Harris’ Director, Marketing Communications. “Most large customers are cutting back but still sent people. Our salespeople have been able to meet with key customers.”

Heading south, Central Hall seemed to have a constant flow with clumps of crowds around some of the usual favorites. Sony’s move here consolidated most of the major camera manufacturers into this hall with Panasonic, Canon, JVC, Ikegami and Hitachi all within spitting distance of each other. At the JVC booth, interest in economical HD acquision gear kept a constant flow of traffic coming by. Success came from matching the needs for today’s market according to Lee Thompson, JVC’s National Manager, Marketing & Communications.

“Our move from tape to hard drives to solid state media fits the new business realities,”Thompson said. “People have been drawn (to the JVC booth) because we’re delivering economy and efficient workflow to make for a great value proposition.”

In South Hall, upper and lower levels told different stories. Like Central Hall, South Lower seemed at times to have the volume reminiscent of better years said Francois Quereuil, Marketing Director for Aspera, a digital transport company. However, he noted that the 20+ person delegations from large media companies that were commonplace in the past had vanished. But trading quantity for quality isn’t a bad thing.

“(Those large) meetings lacked focus and would run over as we tried to answer all the questions,” said Quereuil. “This year, conversations have been far more focused.”

Upstairs, vendors had much more of a mixed bag in South Hall. For Dan Levitt, Director of Sales, SintecMedia, an international software development company specializing in sales, traffic and scheduling systems, the first sign came before he made it to the convention center.

“I’ve been coming to NAB for 15 years and always arrive around 9am on Sunday morning to face a wait of up to a half-hour to get a cab,” he said. “This year, there was no line.”

The challenge Levitt faced wasn’t about the raw numbers of attendees, but the kinds of people who came to the show. The senior operations and IT people from station groups were largely no-shows. Does this year’s discouraging results alter SintecMedia’s plans for 2010?

“We’ll be here next year. This is still the show for our industry,” said Levitt.

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