OPEN MIKE FROM ED GREBOW

Top 10 Effects Of Coronavirus On TV Trade Shows

The pandemic will affect the shows, attendees and exhibitors for years to come. Each of us now has a chance to think about where we as an industry go from here.

This week’s news that the organizers of IBC 2020 in Amsterdam have canceled the annual conference out of concern over COVID-19 and the welfare of attendees and exhibitors has left many in the television industry wondering what will be the longer term consequences of this pandemic on the large trade shows so many of us regard as “must attend” gatherings.

I have been attending the NAB Show for more than 30 years. Its cancellation, like that of IBC, will impact our industry and many of our personal careers for years to come.

As a former broadcaster and trade show exhibitor, and now an investment banker for the industry, I have regarded the NAB Show as the single most important industry event on my calendar every year. While IBC doesn’t compare for me personally, I fully recognize that it does for many broadcasters and others aligned with our industry from around the world.

Thirty years ago when I was EVP and head of operations at CBS, I had the idea to host an engineering breakfast for all of the chief engineers from our affiliates during the NAB Show. That breakfast became the primary means to introduce new technology to our affiliates.

Then, as CEO of Chyron, I experienced the value of being a small exhibitor at the show and working to get the attention of attendees, many of whom were evaluating character generators, graphics systems and other related technology to enhance their productions.

Later, as president of Sony Electronics — the largest NAB Show and IBC exhibitor — I viewed these gatherings as essential for marketing, new product development and education.

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In each of these roles, and even today as an investment banker, the cost of attending and participating at the NAB Show and IBC has always been an issue. For exhibitors, booth space fees, construction costs, transportation, marketing and personnel expenses are significant. When I was at Sony, the company’s practice was to send more than 1,000 employees to the NAB Show every year.

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Ditto for my time as a broadcaster. At CBS, we sent hundreds of people to the NAB Show annually — all needing hotel rooms, meals, flights and ground transportation. While the specific expenditures were different, they were significant.

But this year the cycle has been broken. Each of us now has a chance to think about where we as an industry go from here. Will broadcasters and other regular attendees get out of the habit of attending these large trade shows? Will exhibitors reevaluate how much they spend on these shows and how much of their marketing is wrapped up in these events? What alternatives will be developed?

I’ve given a lot of thought to the impact of the coronavirus cancellations on gatherings like the NAB Show and IBC over the past few weeks, and have identified 10 effects I believe will shape them and our industry going forward.

Down but not out. The NAB Show and IBC will not disappear, but the coronavirus will take a toll on participation in and the health of the events, diminishing their status as “must attend.”

Numbers fall. International restrictions on travel will remain for some time. Even if domestic flight schedules begin to return to normal, people will be reluctant to board planes and be in close proximity to fellow passengers. They’ll also think twice about being on crowded show floors with tens of thousands of strangers.

Contraction among broadcast attendees. The consolidation in television station ownership over the past several years has led to fewer and fewer broadcast groups. Where two similarly sized groups may have sent similarly sized contingents in the past, one consolidated group may send 1.5 times or fewer personnel to trade shows in the future. The stations, groups and networks that remain will also send fewer people to these events as they weigh the value of attending against the health and safety of their executives and engineers.

Fewer companies remain to exhibit. In the aftermath of the pandemic, the consolidation among vendors over the last few years will accelerate. Bankruptcies could be on the rise. The vendors that survive will watch every penny, meaning that both the number that can afford to exhibit and the exhibit space purchased by those that survive will decline.

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Non-broadcast video professional attendance will fall. As the number of traditional broadcasters has declined in recent years, organizers of the NAB Show and IBC have responded by expanding their focus, marketing the shows to non-broadcast video professionals, including those who work in corporate video and education. However, this newest group of participants is far from immune to the effects of the pandemic. They, too, are likely to send fewer attendees to trade shows as the effects of the virus on the U.S. and global economy take their toll, forcing some past non-broadcast attendees to slash expenses.

New networking norm. Inviting 1,000 “friends” to a trade show reception for wine, shrimp and sushi will become less important. Rather, people will rely far more on the telephone, email and Zoom-type meetings to solidify existing relationships and build new ones. This kind of networking may result in many of us having a smaller number of deeper contacts.

Virtual events will grow and mature. NAB should be commended for scrambling to put on its virtual NAB Show Express event in mid-May — a mere month after its canceled in-person event was scheduled to take place in Las Vegas. More virtual alternatives will spring up, and as they mature they will bring greater value to attendees.

Importance of regional and special-interest events climbs — eventually. Smaller in-person events, summits and meetings will take on a greater role for vendors and broadcasters alike as over the long haul they provide forums to network and touch equipment. But at least for the short-term, even organizers of these events will likely nix their gatherings in favor of the safety of virtual alternatives.

Network- and station group-sponsored vendor shootouts and product evaluations grow. Networks have long exercised their purchasing power, demanding vendors participate in head-to-head shootouts and product evaluations of one type of technology or another. These will grow in number and importance as station groups, which own far more TV stations than broadcast networks, do the same with greater frequency. Many will use these gatherings in lieu of large trade shows to maintain cohesion with their far-flung engineering leaders.

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Fewer new product developments as innovation slows. For the next several years, the pace of technology advancement is likely to decline as a result of the pandemic-induced recession. As broadcasters and other trade show attendees fight to recover from lower revenues, their capital spending will decline. In turn, vendors’ R&D budgets will suffer, resulting in fewer advancements being introduced at trade shows and less of a reason to attend.

I also want to offer a bonus observation — not specifically about the shows — but about the industry at large. The coronavirus will impact the rollout of ATSC 3.0 and 8K. It’s too soon to say exactly how, but one thing is certain: Broadcasters will not be looking to make sizable capital investments anytime soon. The introduction of these technologies will happen, but it is going to take an economic recovery before we see widespread broadcaster investment and consumer adoption.

The good news is that none of the effects noted here on our largest trade shows will leave the industry less vibrant or innovative. On the contrary, the pandemic has highlighted the innovation of broadcasters and their importance to our society. However, the pandemic will force the leaders of our industry to rethink how they deliver technology, train customers and educate the market — and that may not be a bad thing.

Ed Grebow is managing director of Lakewood Advisors LLC, a financial advisory and investment banking firm that serves media technology companies. He is a former EVP of CBS, president of Chyron Corp. and president of Sony’s Broadcast and Production Company.


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