Slow Show at NAB

Attendance takes a slight dip, and network buyers seem few and far between

Well, at least you could get a cab. That was the cup-half-full appraisal last week from some exhibitors at NAB 2001, who said foot traffic on the exhibition floor seemed noticeably less than a year ago.

Official preregistration for the NAB 2001 convention was slightly more than 112,000, down from last year's 115,293. This is the first time since 1986 that year-to-year figures declined.

"We didn't see many network people, but we did see a lot of call-letter stations that were eager to fill their station's needs," said Lisa Hobbs, director of marketing for Tandberg Television, which exhibited at the Sands Convention Center.

For some stations, it was nuts and bolts, not digital ones and zeroes that still brought them to NAB. "They're talking about HDTV, but that's not a reality for us right now," said Don King, chief engineer for KLBK-TV Lubbock, Texas. "We're busy just keeping our heads above water."

Several factors influenced what some considered a subdued NAB. First, there is the sluggish economy. Secondly, Fox, NBC and CBS quit the association. Affiliate meetings were canceled or never scheduled.

Certainly, there was some posturing. NBC vowed not to send engineers or station personnel to the convention. But last Tuesday, Bob Hopkins, from NBC's corporate sourcing department that is responsible for equipment purchases, signed an agreement with Grass Valley Group to purchase $25 million in digital editing, server and routing equipment. It was the largest single order in GVG's history.

While recognizing that his company's booth was crowded for most of the four-day show, Ed Grebow, SonyBroadcast president, missed broadcast network engineers. "If we ever needed proof that the NAB convention is not a broadcast show, this year is it," he said. "Very few network people came through."

In fact, CBS, Fox and NBC all sent skeleton crews of engineers. ABC/Disney, which usually sends approximately 100 people, sent about 20 this year (including ESPN employees). ABC had someone go around the floor and tape floor highlights with a small DV camera to show colleagues back in New York. CBS sent roughly the same number of network people—25—as last year and also held its annual Engineers' Breakfast, as did Fox.

Jim DeFilippis, vice president, Television Engineering, News Technology Group at the Fox network, said his R&D division sent as many people this year (eight) as last year. But they stayed one day less.

The attendance for foreign broadcasters this year (26,658) was up from last year's total of 25,344. "We're here to see how the deployment of digital broadcasts and broadband is coming along," said Yasunobu Tokura, senior executive director for affiliate relations at TV Asahi, the No. 3 network in Japan. "We think American broadcasters are progressing faster than they think they are."