Editor’s Corner—The best and worst of NAB 2018

This year's NAB show pulled in more than 100,000 attendees to the Las Vegas Convention Center to see 1,800 exhibiting companies. (Ben Munson/FierceCable)
Dan Frankel and Ben Munson

The 2018 annual NAB Show in Las Vegas is just about in the books after an event filled with sprawling show floors, tons of speakers and at least one slow-moving, self-driving minibus.

The show pulled in more than 100,000 attendees to the Las Vegas Convention Center to see 1,800 exhibiting companies spread out over close to 1.1 million net square feet of exhibit space and nearly 700 educational sessions. More than 25% of those attendees arrived from outside the United States.

By the time next year’s NAB Show rolls around, ATSC 3.0 stakeholders should have plenty of progress to share amid active trials in Cleveland, Dallas and Phoenix. Sinclair might be significantly bigger by then, and the streaming and digital media landscape will definitely be bigger and more diverse. But for now, FierceCable and FierceVideo are breaking down the best and the worst of what this year’s NAB Show had to offer.

The Pay TV Show

The new meeting ground for video programming distributors!

At The Pay TV Show, taking place May 14-16 in Denver, we'll look at the innovative technologies, strategies, and business models that cable, telecom, tech, and media companies are using to compete in what has become a very disrupted marketplace.

Best

A Streaming Summit appears: Although it was regulated to the nearby Westgate and didn’t have a place in the main hall, the new Streaming Summit is a welcome addition to the NAB Show.

Chris Brown, executive vice president of conventions and business operations for NAB, praised the inaugural event, which was put together in the span of a few months by streaming media industry veteran and analyst Dan Rayburn.

“From NAB’s standpoint, it’s extremely important for us to have an event like this,” said Brown, detailing the need for discussions about streaming technology and changing consumer habits. “NAB is all about multiplatform delivery and doing whatever it takes to get content out to the viewers.”

Rayburn echoed those sentiments.

“Really what we need is more of a community in the online video space,” Rayburn said.

This year, the Summit has headlined by keynote conversations with Google Chrome Media executive Matt Frost and PlayStation Vue chief Dwayne Benefield. The Streaming Summit will be a two-day event at the NAB Show New York later this year and it will move to the main hall for NAB Show 2019. An upcoming infrastructure show in New York focusing on edge compute and media delivery is also coming due to Rayburn’s new partnership with NAB.

But for now, it’s refreshing to see the NAB, which has the word “broadcasters” in its name, making a concerted effort to focus on the future away from traditional broadcast. - Ben | @fierce_video

An elegant showcase of news innovation: While the looming specter of Sinclair Broadcasting, and its attempt to homogenize and inject bias into local news reporting, hung heavy over NAB 2018, there were a lot of interesting discussion about truly innovative business models built around true journalism—from Newsy to Cheddar.

Wednesday’s one-on-one with Christy Tanner, executive VP and GM of CBS News Digital, was one such showcase. Tanner’s division, which includes 200 full-time, part-time and shared staffers, operates cooperatively but independently of the main CBS News division. And it seems to be effectively serving a young audience that had previously been misperceived as not being interested in news.

Distributed through CBS All Access and several other channels, CBSN Digital’s content serves a much younger constituency, drilling down deep into the issues these youthful consumers care deeply about: climate change, consumer privacy, special elections, just to name a few topics.

For recent special elections in Alabama and Pennsylvania, Tanner’s unit brought in corespondents who were experts at the county level on the specific regions being covered.

“You can’t fake it,” Tanner said. “You see the national outlets trying to cover the intricacies of these elections, and it just doesn’t pair up.”

Asked where CBS News Digital fits on the ideological spectrum, Tanner added, “We are specifically not aligning ourselves politically in any way, true to the CBS brand. That’s a longstanding brand attribute—we are not partisan. We made a conscious choice to focus on facts as opposed on opinion. You won’t see a panel of eight people all shouting at each other on CBS News. We’re trying to have in-depth discussion.”

As to discuss how her division’s ad-supported model was working, she noted, “We’re doing very well, and supporting ourselves very well.” - Dan | @FierceCable

Worst

Broadcasting is now an industry essentially regulating itself: During Monday’s opening keynote, Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., a longtime radio station owner, marveled at being chair of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee.

“Who would have thought I would chair the committee that has jurisdiction over my former regulator? What a great country,” he declared.

Of course, in an era in which former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruett has been put in charge of an Environmental Protection Agency he once bitterly opposed, Walden’s juxtaposition is kind of the order of the day.

And while there’s certainly nothing wrong with truly modernizing rules for industries that have endured a significant amount of change, as the broadcast industry has, it’s always a little scary when industries are so cozy with the politicians in charge of their oversight.

“He’s one of us,” NAB President and CEO Gordon Smith said—twice!—while introducing not just Walden, but FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai. The latter’s Wednesday speech—during which Pai nearly choked up while thanking the broadcast constituency for their “support” after he’d received death threats for rolling back Title II—was essentially a laundry list of every piece of broadcast-industry regulation he’d performed in the last 15 months on the job. It was pretty big list.

Some of the rollbacks, like the Main Studio Rule, make sense and fit Pai’s broadly expressed mandate of modernization.

But the numerous standing ovations’ given to Pai suggest an industry under the watch of a  very friendly substitute teacher. In a political environment so volatile—one in which a coming blue wave could radically transform the FCC and DOJ headwinds over the next year—an industry so quickly denuded of rules could find itself exposed to a lot more new rules.

Just sayin’. - Dan | @FierceCable

The outlook for TV ad money: The continued growth and proliferation of subscription streaming services is a specter looming over television ad revenue, a subject very near and dear to the heart of all broadcasters and programmers. So grave at times was the prognosis that it caused one NAB Show panel to wonder aloud if ad-free VOD would one day overtake primetime viewing.

Geoff Wolinetz, vice president of client relationships at FreeWheel, said there’s no way that will ever happen. Ralf Jacob, head of Verizon Digital Media Services, said SVODs could eventually incorporate nondisruptive forms of advertising into their content, eating into broadcast’s viewership and ad money at the same time.

But Bob Sullivan, senior vice president of programming at Tegna, said free ad-supported TV will always be around because there will always be people who can’t or don’t want to pay for television.

Jefferies analyst John Janedis, who met with several private and public broadcasters during NAB, said national scatter interest could trickle down to local and political outlook remains good, but that ad revenue problems could persist.

“The local ad market remains under pressure, with continued weakness in autos, QSRs and retail. Given the expected 1Q noise, largely due to the Olympics, we think underlying advertising likely declined L/MSD, and see risk to 2Q ests, which is likely pacing down LSD,” Janedis wrote in a research note.

There’s some cause for hope. Programmers and broadcasters continue to launch and enhance existing digital strategies to meet more viewers online. And rapid innovation around ATSC 3.0 could very soon open up more revenue opportunities for broadcasters away from fluctuating advertising markets.

But if SVOD continues to eat into traditional TV viewership at the pace it has been, the outlook for TV ad revenue is less than sunny. - Ben | @fierce_video