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Editor's Note: Hey Kids, Let's Put on a Show! It's So Crazy, It Just Might Work

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I attended the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) show in Las Vegas this year for the first time since 2002, but from my first step outside on a brutally hot April morning (anyone who tells you "It’s not the heat, but the humidity that gets you" hasn’t done Vegas wearing a suit), it was clear that something was different about this year’s show.

I got a cab within about 2 minutes. The last time I went, cabs were scarce enough that I resorted to actually walking from the Strip to the Las Vegas Convention Center (the monorail hadn’t been built yet). Not exactly a hike for the ages, but enough that I vowed to never wear wingtips to a trade show again. Thankfully for me and my recently broken ankle, though, my fresh New Balance kicks hardly took a beating, as cabs were plentiful all week long.

As happy as that made me as a trade show attendee, the short cab lines and room to move in the aisles couldn’t help but make me a bit nervous for our own Streaming Media East show. With NAB attendance down a whopping 20% and trade show attendance off across the board in every industry, I was bracing myself for a quieter event at the Hilton New York in mid-May. And with Streaming Media having just announced the first Online Video Platform Summit to be held in conjunction with Streaming Media West in San Jose, Calif., this November, I couldn’t help but wonder if we were taking a bigger risk than any I’d taken at the slots back in Vegas.

Turns out my fears were, if not exactly unfounded, ultimately unrealized. This year’s Streaming Media East boasted record numbers, with 3,733 registered attendees, up almost 5% from the 2008 total. And every attendee and exhibitor I talked to told the same story: There seemed to be fewer "tire kickers"—people walking the floor with little intention of buying anything being shown, or worse yet, just killing time until the next refreshment break—than usual, and people were actually doing business on the exhibition floor.

We even had a minor "brush with fame" when Air America’s Sam Seder crashed the show and jokingly complained on camera that he was missing from the Streaming Media All-Stars displayed on the cover of the April/May issue of the magazine. He was also upset that his name was spelled wrong on his badge and that there was no coffee and Danish. (It’s not our fault he was looking in the wrong place for a cup of java, and he shouldn’t feel bad about the badge—the conference gets my name wrong every year, and I’m the editor. You can find the clip on www.breakroomlive.com or on YouTube.)

The show also garnered more media coverage than any Streaming Media show in recent memory or, as our company Information Today, Inc. likes to call it in a Bill James-esque turn, "the modern era"—i.e., since those heady days before the bubble. From usual suspects such as Beet.TV and Contentinople to Advertising Age and The Wall Street Journal, the show was big news.

Obviously, show organizer Dan Rayburn and the rest of the ITI staff are doing something right, but those numbers really reflect highly on the state of our industry not in spite of the economy but, to a large degree, because of it. More and more companies—many of whom don’t consider video their core business—are recognizing the need to get online with video simply because that’s what their customers expect. As one executive said to me in New York, we’ve reached the top of Geoffrey Moore’s technology adoption curve and are at the point now where conservative late adopters are shedding their skepticism or are at least putting it aside in the face of the realization that, whether it is for training, marketing, or any other form of communication, online video just makes sense. Today, a website without video seems as quaint as a website without images once did.

Which brings me back to the Online Video Platform Summit, an event that was born of the realization that with the recent glut of online video platforms—more than 60 of them and counting—organizations face both unprecedented choice and intimidating confusion when it comes to the best way to get their video online in a way that will help them grow their business. In fact, after I uttered words to that effect during a meeting in the Hilton’s bar, a 30-year technology veteran came over and interrupted us with a tap on the shoulder to say, "What he just said—that’s exactly right." And while many of those people were at Streaming Media East, it’s clearly time to reach out to folks who aren’t interested in CDNs or encoding minutiae, but who need a place to learn about online video for their own business needs.

Maybe launching a new event in 2009 seems crazy. But we think we’re on to something, and we’ve got at least 3,733 reasons to believe.

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