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Executive Viewpoint: Chris Brown

Thu 28, 03 2019

This article has been taken from the IABM Journal Issue 108. To see the full Journal click here.

NAB Show Las Vegas Logo

Chris Brown

Executive Vice President, Conventions and Business Operations at NAB

We spoke to Chris Brown, Executive Vice President, Conventions and Business Operations at NAB, about what members can expect at this year’s NAB Show Las Vegas, and what steps NAB Show has taken to change the event up again for 2019.

Tell us about how things have shaped up coming out of the 2018 NAB Show. What have you learned in your follow up and research to shape the 2019 NAB Show?

Well to start, our attendance did drop off in 2018 so that was an obvious concern. We’ve run through the data a whole range of ways, focusing on getting better insights from all the data we have. We’ve looked at it up, down and sideways and in the end it all points back to the enormous change that’s occurring in the industry; no individual sector appeared to drop off disproportionately. Consolidation on both sides of the industry was one of the reasons for the drop. Of the top 20 media brands attending over the last few years, we saw drop-offs in 2018 of, in some cases, 20%. A number of organizations were also going through cost reductions – part of their drive for efficiencies; it all comes back to the change in the business.

On the subject of data, we’re getting better at gathering and analyzing it –becoming more sophisticated in the way we look at our audience, and at the same time staying tightly connected to exhibitors to gain insight into where they see the challenges and opportunities.

It does seem that there was a process issue that also affected the numbers last year. This was tied to a significant reduction in guest passes. Last year we changed our approach to guest passes, which are mostly distributed by the exhibitors. We pushed the date back to five weeks prior to the show, and the show itself was earlier than usual too. This threw the pattern for many exhibitors, who we have found tend to really fire up their marketing drive only 2-3 weeks prior to the show. So for this year, we’ve moved the guest passes deadline back again; it makes us more nervous of course not being able to see the numbers until so close to the show, but in the end, it has worked in the past so we are confident this will help in 2019. We’re also giving exhibitors new, simple tools to use to promote the show to their audiences –we’re partnering with them to drive attendance to everyone’s benefit.

What feedback did you get from exhibitors on the 2018 show?

The reaction of the exhibitors to the reduced attendance numbers very much reflected their reaction to similar drops as a result of the 2001 and 2008 recessions –they reported that the quality remained the same or better as the previous year, with leads gathered also holding up. In other words, they still got value out of what they did at the show. This backs up the theory that those who stayed away were in the main less qualified buyers. However, we are taking many steps to ensure visitor numbers are the maximum they can be, not only within the mainstream of broadcast and media, but also from adjacent verticals where video is playing an increasingly important role.

Overall, we’re going through an amazing period of change and had a whole lot of factors coming together in 2018. We’ve seen the change coming, but now it’s here, it’s having impacts on both sides of the aisle. We’re responding positively.

What types/verticals of attendees do you see as potential growth areas?

We’re always interested in gaining new audiences. I call it ‘cake and eat it too’ syndrome: quality matters but so does quantity. We have to have sufficient scale on both sides of the aisle – in exhibitors and attendees –to satisfy all who participate. We think we can drive attendance over 100,000 and perhaps longer-term back to peak levels at 110,000+ – it’s challenging but we see new opportunities and categories.

Among the categories that we see coming in bigger numbers are the digital platforms, streaming, content producers and distributors. The big digital platforms are becoming such a critical piece of our industry – we need to get them more involved. This year, we’ve got Google on the show floor again as well as the Facebook Live pavilion, which also demon-strates that these companies represent truly unique new players –they can engage on both sides of the aisle. These companies, including the other major players like Netflix and Amazon Prime, represent incredibly important new networks from the content side and so they will also be well represented as visitors to the show.

The cine side is becoming more important as well; the Los Angeles production landscape has changed quite a bit. We see a resurgence in work being done out of Hollywood driven by a need to produce content for distribution across multiple mediums. The lines have blurred a bit across what is made for the big screen, TV and even the smaller screens, meaning laptops and phones. The good news is there is no shortage of content being produced – it’s a good competitive landscape which will hopefully continue to grow.

Advertising is also important – agencies and brands are definitely opportunity areas. And we even have new audio content creating new players and growth – in the form of podcasting, yet another interesting area and opportunity. It gets even more interesting as we see the examples of it migrating to TV.

There are also emerging segments that we feel will yield new opportunity and new potential attendees. Esports is a great example of this – it’s a very real and interesting new segment. It has a great spread into the media and entertainment business; it has its own content genre tied to live events, which overlap into live event production, which is a healthy part of our industry right now. Thus, we are placing a spotlight on Esports at this year’s show.

Another important emerging, or better put – converging, element is the automotive industry, which is bringing progressive and new media opportunities as autonomous vehicles effectively become rolling media platforms.

On the tech trends side, there are a few that could have bearing on future attendance. 5G is obviously coming but it’s not real yet and the timeframe is not solid. Our Tech Team feels it is a bit early to be fully focused on this – deployment issues need to be worked through first –but anything tied to IOT including autonomous vehicles needs to be part of the dialog in terms of where the opportunities are for people in the media space.

In summary, we’re looking at any business that uses video. As a result, I’m completely optimistic because of the growth in delivery methods and screens and the overall increased consumer demand for video content.

Last summer you announced a new flat rate for drayage/handling which should reduce costs for most exhibitors and give them more certainty with budgeting. You also indicated that further cost-containing measures would follow. What progress have you made on this?

We’ve built an entire customer service program, NAB Cares, and we’ve brought in an outside group to help us deliver it. I’m really happy about how it’s going – we’re working through all the pain points for exhibitors. We dealt with drayage last year and the next priority is electrical services, where we’re aiming to eliminate additional charges by offering exhibitors one guaranteed price for bundled services. We’re also negotiating special prices for exhibitors who take less than 400sq ft of floorspace, giving them a reduced overall cost for the basic service that most require.

The next area we’re working on, with a target of 2020 to have new arrangements in place, is Internet connectivity. This is critical for the way our industry is moving and we know exhibitors require fast and reliable Internet connections to demonstrate their technology. The LVCC Internet is not directly in our control – it is fixed infrastructure, run by the building owners in conjunction with Cox. The LVCC has recently appointed a new President and CEO who has great experience in big capital projects and infrastructure, and is very open to working towards solutions that will make things better – and more cost effective – for exhibitors. We’re looking for a lower cost on basic service for the smaller booths, while for the bigger companies, we’re looking to push the technology envelope – maybe introducing a cloud-based option as well as bringing costs down – so exhibitors don’t have to pay for multiple high-speed connections.

How does NAB Show take the pulse of the industry to ensure that the focus of the conference and the exhibition’s special features are on-point for our rapidly changing industry?

There are a whole range of sources we tap into to stay as current as possible. These include industry trade publications, research organizations and sister trade organizations serving the broadcast and media industry. We have long and strong partnerships with most, if not all, of the major players in these categories. We also work with a range of other partners to both frame out and build a good number of the programs we produce at the show, tied to both our conference and exhibit offerings. So to answer your question, constantly.

There are a couple of committees we work with as well on specific programs. For example, for the major technical program we produce – our Broadcast Engineering and IT Conference – we work with a committee of leading technology executives from the industry. They meet several times before the show and work through a fairly rigorous paper submission process.

Our Exhibitor Advisory Board is also very important in this – it’s the voice of the exhibitor customer for us, and the members talk to other exhibitors to get us as much feedback as they can. And finally, our technology team is also vital in this – they are charged with staying fully in tune with the latest developments in TV, digital and radio technology, so they help ensure we are able to keep up with the rapid changes both within and alongside our industry.

Following on from that, what new features and pavilions will be unveiled at the 2019 NAB Show?

There’s an awful lot of new stuff going on this year, as well as the return of some popular features. I would recommend a visit to the NAB Show website and click on the ‘New this Year’ and ‘Hot Topics’ buttons on the front page for a full rundown. I’ll highlight just a few here, which reflect the growth areas I identified earlier.

On the exhibit floor we have focused on adding a number of featured areas that center on education and engagement. I think altogether, including a few returning feature areas, we have seven or eight special destinations on the floor, mostly themed to major new technology trends. On the new side we are highlighting esports, in-vehicle infotainment, 5G, AI and cloud.

The In-Vehicle Experience is aimed at giving visitors a peek at the forefront of in-dash entertainment –what are the opportunities going forward? We’ve got some actual next-gen automobiles at the show delivering actual in-vehicle entertainment experiences. It’s in the North Hall which is essentially ‘Innovation Central’ alongside the Futures Park, SPROCKIT and Start-up areas – our Innovation Pipeline.

As I said earlier, esports is an area of great potential in our industry, and the Esports Experience, in the North Hall, will help broadcasters to understand what’s happening in the space. It’ll have a live gaming area, a theater and other activities.

Then there’s Destination 5G in South Hall Upper. This will be principally educational – getting the dialog going, looking at the opportunities and challenges.

Downstairs in South Hall Lower is the AI and Cloud Campus – all about the new workflows. There will be theater-centric discussions and dialog and a few demonstrations of real-world applications.

In terms of familiar features, topping the list would be the Connected Media IP show-within-a show, located again in the South Hall Upper and showcasing an expanded roster of mobile, streaming and other leading-edge vendors, as well as two theaters with non-stop presentations. Another important returning feature will be the IP Showcase in Central Hall, where we continue to look at the advantages of switching to IP, how to implement new infrastructure and make the shift as securely as possible. Other returning featured destinations include the Podcasting Studio and Advanced Advertising Pavilions.

On the conference side of the ledger we are excited to be introducing a new Influencer Series. This brings together the people, companies and brands that are focused on taking an idea and building it into a media business. It will be a combination of fireside chats, TED-style talks and intimate panel discussions.

The Streaming Summit is back –introduced in 2018 and produced by Dan Rayburn, a streamer and leading authority on streaming technology. It will be expanded this year with an extra half day of presentations.

We’re also supporting specialized training – AWS, AbelCine and others have their own specialized training that they’re bringing to the show.

Two final things: we’re introducing the NAB Show Product of the Year awards to recognize and reward companies doing innovative things in 12 categories. And we’re also launching Show and Sell. Retail has been forbidden on the show floor in the past because of tax issues. Well, we’ve taken on the burden of facilitating the tax administration to enable companies in the Central Hall to sell inventory right out of their exhibit space.

What’s the overall theme for NAB Show this year, and why have you chosen it?

Our theme this year is ‘Every Story Starts Here’, with the M.E.T. Effect still threaded through everything –how media, entertainment and technology all come together at the NAB Show. The new theme brings the story back to content and the passion around it – this is what’s at the heart of our industry. NAB Show is a platform-agnostic event –content on any platform is brought to life at the show.

IABM research points heavily to the industry moving towards becoming a content factory, where speed and efficiency of the whole process from creation to consumer delivery are paramount – with every link in the chain increasingly connected and interdependent. How is this being reflected at NAB Show?

We are dedicated to helping people understand workflows – even esports puts content at its center. Content is the centerpiece of our industry – technology is the enabler, and all the features I have mentioned above will help guide visitors through the modern content chain. NAB Show brings together the community to answer the questions of what’s possible and what’s next.

Are you seeing a change in the way exhibitors use their booth space?

Our industry is a rapidly changing environment and buyers have a different perspective – they’re looking for a different kind of interaction. In response, exhibitors are changing up the way they engage with people – more meeting rooms and taking suites in hotels, which we are facilitating. The essence of our job is to facilitate interactions however people want to do it. We can help give people new ways to engage, to activate.

It’s much more interactive now – not just static equipment displays, and these interactions are perhaps presented more in a learning than a selling sense. So, we’re working on unique and extra ways exhibitors can expand their engagement in the show. This is a good thing – our goal is to drive good returns for exhibitors, and we want to facilitate this in every way we can.

Following on from the previous question, what would your advice be to IABM members to help them maximize their return from their investment in exhibiting at NAB Show Las Vegas?

Obviously, I would recommend maximizing pre-show marketing and appointment setting, but the first thing I would say is talk to us; tell us what you want to do, and if you want to do it differently, we’d love to work with you – to get creative. Trade shows have to evolve – we want them to and need them to – to break out of the traditional way of doing things. It’s our goal to help exhibitors get to the people they need to. There are a lot of options to look at for this, and we welcome discussions.

The second thing I would say is promote your presence at the show to the maximum. We have tools available to help with this, so please make use of them. It’s always paramount to get the best returns on your investment in exhibiting at NAB Show, so I would also say you can’t assume that you can just do or look the same from year to year. Have a clear and strong message. Consider what you can do to truly stand out. You need to get creative!

The final thing is to change your patterns. Some exhibitors never get out of their booth to take in what else is going on around the show. Take some time out to get onto the show floor and look around – there’s a ton to learn and many opportunities for what could be useful connections and engagements that you would otherwise have missed.

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