New opportunities for TV duopolies and the ongoing challenges of DTV conversion will dominate the official sessions during the NAB convention this week in Las Vegas. The buzz on the exhibit floors and in corporate suites, however, is likely to be about the recent and ever-so-slight pickup in the ad market and whether it will continue.
If NAB attendance is any indication, there is reason to be hopeful.
The upturn in the broadcast industry's bottom line generated a late boost in registrations and turned what could have been an eerily sparse showing for the industry's annual gathering into little more than a "mild decline" from last year's convention. NAB officials say the new estimate mirrors the sluggish performance of other industry conventions in 2002.
The NAB is projecting an attendance drop-off of 10% to 15% from last year's 113,000 official figure. If the numbers hold up, the NAB's official tally could be as low as 96,000.
Of course, the convention's official attendance figure frequently comes in a little higher than the educated guesses floated by Vegas cabbies, but, whatever the actual number, NAB is likely to be grateful for what it's calling a respectable turnout during a rough year for business and travel. After all, NATPE and Comdex both suffered much more dramatic declines. "We've had a very healthy pickup in the last six weeks, with the rebound in the advertising economy," said NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton.
The convention's 850,000 square feet will accommodate 1,400 exhibitors, 100 fewer than last year.
Attendance has been given a boost by the addition of the Radio-Television News Directors Association convention.
Highlights of the convention include the induction of Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In
into the NAB Broadcasting Hall of Fame. On hand will be Dick Martin and cast members Goldie Hawn, Ruth Buzzi, Joanne Worley, Lily Tomlin and Arte Johnson. Former FCC Chairman Richard Wiley will receive the distinguished-service award, and former House Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.) will be given the Grover Cobb award for improving broadcasters' relations with the federal government. NBC's Jay Leno was slated to entertain attendees on Sunday.
Broadcasters will get a little advice at Monday's convention keynoter by Richard Parsons, CEO-designate of AOL Time Warner Corp. Dallas Mavericks owner and HDNet Chairman Mark Cuban and Netscape co-founder Mark Andressen will headline a major Monday panel.