The National Association of Broadcasters late Tuesday released its attendance figures for the 2009 show, which show a significant drop from last year's attendance: 83,842, compared to 105,259 attendees in 2008. For comparison, 111,028 attended in 2007.
The roughly 20% drop in attendance is not surprising, as broadcasters have seen significant weakness in their advertising business in recent quarters due to the economic slowdown, and many have slashed travel budgets. Vendors have been hearing for months from their customers that less of them were coming, and some large broadcasters like ABC instead arranged for key vendors to visit them and show their wares in-person in advance of the show. The attendance dip is also consistent with the Consumer Electronics Show last January in Las Vegas, which also showed a 20% dip, from 141,150 in 2008 to 110,000 this year.
Vendors B&C spoke with this week on the exhibit floor estimated the actual attendance to be even lower, perhaps 60,000, particularly when looking at barometers like short or non-existent cab lines at local hotels and the ease of securing reservations at top restaurants. While large vendors with prime floor positions like Harris, Sony and Avid (which returned to the show this year) were enjoying full booths, some of the hallways and booths on the periphery of the show floor were unusually quiet.
"It's slow, but not non-existent," said Kim Grantham, VP of marketing for weather provider Baron Services, who said she expected a dip based on pre-show conversations with customers.
Ricardo Flores, director of broadcast sales for satellite service provider GlobeCast, said attendance from his company's customers was down. But he said part of that was attributable to broadcasters traveling to a meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa to discuss broadcast coverage plans for the 2010 World Cup soccer tournament; several Globecast engineers had also made the trip.
Flores and other exhibitors, however, said that the quality of the traffic at this year's show was excellent, as many lower-level employees didn't make the trip this year. Instead of waves of "tire-kickers," the broadcasters who were hitting the booths were senior executives with purchasing power.
Del Parks, VP of engineering and operations for Sinclair Broadcast Group, said he had met with one large vendor at the show Tuesday afternoon who had just earned two purchase orders.
"The people who came are buying," said Parks.
In an unusual event, Parks was actually manning a booth that Sinclair Broadcast Group had set up in the ATSC Mobile DTV pavilion. Sinclair was showing off complex integration between various mobile DTV vendors to create a complete system, a project headed by Sinclair director of advanced technology Mark Aitken, which Sinclair used to transmit mobile DTV streams from several stations in Las Vegas.
Andre Gueziec, CEO of traffic graphics provider Beat the Traffic, said his company had offered free passes to some customers for NAB but they had declined, citing travel restrictions. But then some had showed up by surprise on Monday afternoon, taking advantage of cheap airfares and hotel rooms in Las Vegas.
"If you care about the business, you will come," said Gueziec.
NAB said international attendees this year numbered 23,232, while news media represented 1,246. For his part, NAB Executive VP Dennis Wharton said he was happy with the turnout.
"With two days remaining, the NAB Show has been a phenomenal success by any measure in an otherwise challenging economy," said Wharton in a statement. "We appreciate the strong support of both exhibitors and attendees who continue to make the NAB Show the most important annual event for the electronic media marketplace."