Surviving NAB: Divide and conquer

It's a big show. Here are some broadcasters' strategies.

The National Association of Broadcasters convention, to be held April 6-11 in Las Vegas, will once again challenge the broadcast-engineering community with an impossible task: comprehending product developments from more than 900 exhibitors covering more than 850,000 square feet.

And while the engineering executives and teams from top broadcast and cable networks may plan to investigate different product areas, they all share one common tactic: divide and conquer.

Typically, this involves making a list of companies to visit (or product categories to check out), then dividing up the list among the engineering personnel attending the show. How that list is divided—by geographic region on the show floor, exhibitor, product type—seems to be a question of personal preference. But all the executives agree that hitting the show floor without a sense of what one wants to accomplish is not the way to spend a week in Las Vegas.

In addition, increasing the challenge this year is that, for many networks, groups and stations, the number of attendees will be kept to a minimum given economic cutbacks.

Some product categories seem to be on everyone's shopping list this year. Asset-management systems are one such item. All the networks have lofty aspirations of closely networked facilities sharing digital video assets. The rub is that many of the aspirations seem to outstrip the product capabilities—or at least those of the product offerings available today.

Nonlinear editing also appears to be gaining popularity as a product area worthy of closer inspection. Again, this is closely coupled with the storage of video assets on servers. In years past, nonlinear editing was often relegated to the post-production community. The post industry has a business model that allows for bleeding-edge capital expenditures to be picked up by clients willing to pay for the privilege of being on the bleeding edge. Broadcasters, on the other hand, don't have such a model. So, with digitally stored assets more readily available to be quickly imported into nonlinear editing systems, the operational savings are visible.

Editing, storage and asset management are just a few of the hot topics. But there is one over-arching trend: the switch to digitization and the desire to move and edit video and audio as digital files.

The articles on the following pages provide a sampling of what broadcast and basic- and pay-cable network engineers will be on the hunt for at this year's show.