For over a week, I’ve been wrestling with the question: What’s it like to visit the NAB Show? Let me try to make the answer manageable by breaking it into four parts: the education sessions, the general sessions, the exhibit floor, and the stuff behind closed doors.
The education sessions, often part of conferences, contain some interesting talks from experts, along with a fair number of sales pitches by folks trying to get you to hire them or start using their products. They’re not free, but some of the topics may be worth it. The best ones to visit are those that are a tight match for what you’re interested in, and they’re even better when they take place during the quieter couple of days before the keynote. Check out the NAB Show conference schedule and pricing to see what’s available.
The general sessions are free, and unlike the general sessions of some conventions, they’re often worth attending. The keynote, just before the exhibit floor opens, often contains real news. This year, Chase Carey, the president of News Corporation, fired off a warning that Fox could leave over-the-air TV if Aereo continues to prevail in the courts. That’s pretty unlikely, but it sure has started a lot of people talking about it.
If you really want to know what the NAB Show is like, the centerpiece is the exhibit floor. It’s free, and it’s where to find a lot of interesting stuff.
The first thing to keep in mind is that the exhibit floor is populated by companies with something to sell to broadcasters. Or to aspiring filmmakers. Based on what I see here every year, I’m convinced that half the film school graduates in America find themselves working for a TV station news department, and most of them still have a great movie bouncing around in their heads.
The booths tend to cluster by theme. Most of the radio gear was near the front of the Central Hall this year. Production music and stock video were just past the middle stairs in the South Lower Hall. The largest exhibitors stake out the same spot on the floor year after year.
And the booths come in all sizes. There are the behemoths, such as Sony or Harris, that can’t fit into a single photo. There are middle-sized booths, the majority of them, with plenty of room for displays and conferences. And there are the small-sized booths, barely the length of a long folding table with room for just a couple of chairs behind it. Those tiny booths sometimes contain just derivative, cheap products, but sometimes they’re the home of the most interesting new technologies.
If you’re a satellite fan, this is a much better place to visit than CES. There’s a whole aisle of satellite equipment outdoors, between the South and Central halls. It’s probably not as good as Satellite show held every March in Washington DC, but I haven’t been there yet, so I couldn’t tell you.
And what about the stuff behind closed doors? That’s where the really big deals get made, but with rare exceptions, they never let me in, so I can’t tell you what they’re like. And if you already attend those secret meetings, then you don’t need me to tell you.