NAB And The Coronavirus, Covid-19

This was originally posted in the Digital Anarchy newsletter, but thought it was worth reposting. One change regarding my rant below about NAB organizers… they’ve removed the bizarre claim that free registrations somehow are a proxy for attendance, BUT have now replaced it with a stat that 96% of exhibitors will be there. This is total spin and BS. Exhibitors don’t get a refund if they cancel, so they have little incentive to tell NAB they aren’t coming. For example, Digital Anarchy is probably not going, but we haven’t ‘cancelled’. There’s an outside chance we’ll send a couple people but it’s not likely. But there’s no benefit in tell NAB we’re not going. We just haven’t shipped anything or paid for any booth expenses (carpet, electricity, etc.). So, no, 96% of the exhibitors will not be at the show.

Original post:

With Adobe, Avid, AJA, Ross Video and others cancelling their presence at NAB, I think the writing is on the wall. Especially with virus cases continuing to rise exponentially (300+ on Friday, 600+ on Monday).

However, for those of you looking for a bit more info, here are the results from the NAB/Covid-19 survey I posted last week. We got about 200 responses, so it’s not a huge sample of NAB’s 90000 attendees, but should give you some insight on how folks are feeling about it. Keep in mind the vast majority of these responses came before Adobe announced their decision. (and our newsletter has a lot of Adobe users, so that might have changed some people from ‘on the fence’ to ‘No’.)

Judging from the survey, it appears attendance would be down by 25% or more. Of the folks that were still on the fence, 60% cited ‘Significant number of Exhibitors cancelling’ as a reason they’d choose not to go. So the additional cancellation announcements are a big deal.

Here’s a summary of the survey responses, so you can read what you want into the data:
NAB/Covid-19 Survey Results

Here are the comments from the ‘any other thoughts’ question. It’s interesting to see what folks think about the virus, why they aren’t or are going, and how important NAB is to them.
Respondants Comments on NAB/Covid-19

Some notes about the survey itself:

– If someone answered ‘No’ to ‘were you going to NAB before Covid-19’, then they were thanked and the survey ended. I was mostly concerned with the opinion of folks that were planning on going to the show.
– I didn’t think to include the ‘Country’ field until after sending the newsletter out. So only about of a third of respondants answered. It’s mostly US based and I’m guessing that applies to the survey overall.
– For the ‘Travel’ question, I didn’t consider folks that were driving. But it’s notable that 67% of respondants had not booked a flight. Flights are usually non-refundable, so it’s a commitment. If you book a hotel through NAB, you can cancel until 3 days before the show with no penalty… so it’s not really a commitment.

Some comments on the comments.

Why do I take issue with the way NAB is handling this? Because they’ve done almost nothing other than announce they’ll have extra hand sanitizer. What they have not done:

– Explain to exhibitors proactively what the cancellation process is and what happens if NAB cancels.
– They have not provided any guidance about what metrics they’re looking at and what would have to happen for them to cancel the show. It’s been nothing but ‘the show’s on!’ and ‘look, registrations are the same as always!’. You know, because everyone that signs up for a free exhibits pass is definitely going to show up. It’s not a good proxy for attendance. Just look at the survey results.
– They have not made any concessions to exhibitors (or attendees) that don’t want to attend due to health reasons. Despite NAB’s encouragement to not come if you’re sick… it’s just lip service. If you don’t show up, you still pay for your exhibit space. No partial refund, nothing. So exhibitors have an economic incentive to show up sick or not.

There’s an overreaction to the virus: Possibly, to some degree, but it’s not just about you. It’s true, you might be fine but who will you potentially give it to? It appears to be quite lethal to folks over 60 or people with otherwise compromised health. It’s probably good that the media has been warning about it, otherwise the numbers would be far worse than they are.

What NAB means to us: It’s clear that for many people, NAB is more about people than seeing new, shiny things. So if there are less people, it really eliminates a lot of incentive to go. So much of NAB is sitting in a grungy bar with a client or friend. That’s the heart of the show. (and seriously, does anyone really think Vegas has found God and suddenly discovered cleanliness? The phrase ‘lipstick on a pig’ comes to mind with all the talk of extra hand sanitizer.)

What To Do

At this point I think NAB should cancel. The number of virus cases are growing exponentially. Exhibitors are pulling out. Attendance is going to be down (despite NAB staff apparently being in denial), and the more exhibitors that pull out, the lower attendance is going to be.

Admittedly, it’s not quite as clear of a case as SXSW, where the whole point of the show is to go see bands in packed clubs/bars. However, a large portion of the value of NAB is the after hours parties and gatherings. Taking a quick walk around the tradeshow floor, doing a meeting or two and then quarantining yourself in your hotel room is hardly an experience worth the travel costs in most cases.

With Adobe pulling out, it’s likely we will not go. The main value of doing the show is talking to customers at the booth and the after hours events. If few people are at the show, that seriously diminishes both those activities. I can do meetings via Zoom, I don’t need to go to the show for that. It’s still possible we’ll send a couple people for the first three days… but it’s looking less and less likely. However, we’ll still have the NAB promotions going (watch this newsletter for show specials on Transcriptive, Flicker Free and more) and probably do some webinars for the stuff we were going to announce at the show. Stay tuned…

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