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COVID-19: All Eyes on NAB

NAB is still on for now, but after AJA pulled out earlier this week, exhibitors are taking a "watch and wait" approach as concerns about coronavirus increase and conferences across the globe cancel or postpone

As of today, the NAB Show in Las Vegas is still a go for April 18-22, but as more events across the globe pull the plug, some exhibitors and attendees are beginning to worry that the venerable broadcast and OTT event might be next.

Among the latest international trade shows to cancel or postpone is Prolight + Sound 2020 in Frankfurt, originally set for the end of March and now rescheduled for the end of May. Even that may be risky, given information circulating that the height of the outbreak in Europe could hit in June and July. The television programming conference MIPTV, to be held in Cannes, France March 30-April 2, canceled today. Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Adobe, and others have cancelled major conferences coming up in the next few months, in some cases replacing them with online events. (BuzzFeed is keeping a running list of cancellations.)

Cancellations for Health and Business Reasons

On Tuesday, California-headquartered AJA Video Systems became the first high profile exhibitor to announce non-attendance at NAB citing coronavirus risks. NAB has booked 1,600 exhibitors.

"While AJA made the difficult decision to withdraw from NAB 2020 this month due to Coronavirus risks, we remain fully committed to transitioning all of our planned NAB announcements to web-based video," explains director of product marketing Bryce Button. "It is not a decision we took lightly, and one that we made out of an abundance of caution for the health and safety of our employees and partners worldwide."

AJA may be the biggest company to pull out of NAB, but they're not the only one. 

"We decided to cancel our visits to NAB and other shows in the next months," says Oliver Lietz, CEO of German-based streaming company nanocosmos. "Our idea is to get more engaged into online presentations and meetings. We have both concerns about public health but also see much smaller audiences and visitors joining, which reduces the value of joining the show as exhibitors. Many shows in Europe already have been cancelled. We see a good chance for the organizers to pick up the challenge and move attention to online gatherings." 

Ensemble Designs, which makes signal processors and other video equipment, has decided not to attend the event. "We've been thinking about this for some time, and we're very concerned about the [virus's] impact on the show," said David Wood, president and chief design engineer, adding that it was a business decision, not one based on personal health concerns. "Attendance will be so uneven because of prohibitions on travel," he said, adding that Ensemble was planning to send five or six people to NAB.

One major exhibitor that attends both NAB and International Wireless Communications Expo (IWCE, scheduled for Las Vegas April 1-3) has pulled out of IWCE. An industry source with knowledge of the company’s decision-making said the company will make a decision about NAB by March 15. 

Watching and Waiting

Fellow exhibitors are keeping watch, and many companies we spoke to declined to go on the record. Others, like Akamai, are planning to attend NAB even as they are scaling back other events and monitoring the situation closely.

"Akamai's top priority is the health, safety, and wellbeing of our employees, customers and partners," the company said in a statement. "Given the uncertainty of the COVID-19 virus situation, we have canceled most events globally that are scheduled for March and April and have communicated that news directly to all confirmed participants. 

"We're carefully monitoring what is an extremely fluid situation and will continue to work closely with event organizers, health organizations, and our staff to inform our decision making as it relates our participation in NAB and other third-party events as they approach."

Limelight Networks is still planning to exhibit at NAB, according to a company spokesperson. One publicist who represents more than a dozen exhibitors says all of their clients are still planning to attend, adding that it’s "business as usual, unless NAB itself does/says something."

Imagine Communications VP of global marketing Jennifer Overbaugh's response is consistent with others we've spoken to.

"As of now, Imagine Communications is moving ahead with all plans for NAB, and we look forward to joining our peers once again for this important event. We are closely monitoring international developments with the health and safety of Imagine's employees being our top priority, and will provide an update should circumstances change."

David Cohen, vice president of marketing communications at Grass Valley says, "We will be hugely disappointed if the show is cancelled but realize that preventing the spread of COVID-19 is critical and that the safety of our staff and our industry is of the utmost importance. We are putting in place a contingency plan for if [the] NAB Show is cancelled to make sure we can still share all our new solutions and developments with our customers."

For companies attending internationally, like Vladivostok-based Softvelum, COVID-19 has created a number of logistical challenges.

"Korean Air has rescheduled their flights from Seoul-Incheon due to the outbreak of the disease in Korea. It's one of the biggest hubs of Asia, so all flights to the U.S. (including Seoul to Las Vegas) are either cancelled or re-scheduled badly until the end of April," says co-founder and CEO Yury Udovichenko. "So instead of flying across Pacific, we now have to plan our trip via west, across Russia, Europe, the Atlantic, and most of the U.S. The same for other participants from the Asia and Pacific region - this will affect them in some unpredictable ways.” Still, he says the company still plans to attend the show.

The Show Must Go On...

NAB itself issued a statement on March 3 (updated today), saying the show is proceeding as planned. "We understand there are exhibitors and participants that may decide not to attend this year's show and respect everyone's desire to do what they believe is best. As of today, we are hearing that the overwhelming majority of our exhibitors are looking forward to attending the show and our attendee registrations continue on pace with the normal patterns we see year-over-year."

IBC, the European counterpart to NAB occurring in September, has also issued continuity of business statements with reassuring notices about onsite health precautions.

"IBC remains entirely confident that IBC2020 will take place as planned. There have been no cancellations from any IBC2020 exhibitors or speakers."

However, if the IOC postpones or cancels the Tokyo Olympic Games, which it is coming under increasing time-pressure to do, any event of lesser scale (all of them) will find it hard to persist.

Although the audio-visual industry trade show Integrated Systems Europe went ahead in February, attendance was down by 30,000 from 2019's peak of 81,000. In part this was due to storms disrupting travel that week.

Mobile World Congress organizer GSMA was forced to cancel its massive Barcelona event when the dominos of exhibitors from Ericsson to AWS made it inevitable. Unlike MWC and ISE, NAB has a largely American audience so while the number of visitors travelling from overseas may tumble, it may still have enough domestic support.

...But What if It Doesn't?

Even the viral outbreak has a silver lining. Vendors of remote collaboration tools, virtual meeting systems, and browser-based edit software are reporting a boom in demand as everything from education to conferences and corporate meetings to creative video production itself is forced into remote distributed workflows.  

"Having been champions of remote and decentralized workflows for a while, for those needing to adapt their workflow practices in the light of the current COVID-19 outbreak, we have the tools ready to go right now – from acquisition over production to distribution, as well as disaster recovery,  all can be handled remotely and / or in the cloud," says Cinegy owner Daniella Weigner. "We are looking forward to showcasing these at NAB. Our sales team is ready to help with any remote demos now. In case the show is canceled or we are advised/not allowed to travel, our pre-and post-NAB webinars will be adapted accordingly and we plan to meet our partners and customers virtually. We hope everyone stays safe."

Nanocosmos' Lietz says he hasn't seen NAB take advantage of online meetings previously, but that they offer the potential for NAB attendees and exhibitors to connect even if they aren't at the show.

Most companies seem to be taking watch-and-wait approach, but are working under the assumption that NAB will happen.

"PlayBox Neo is following the NAB's coronavirus updates and will make a final determination based on input from the WHO, along with our management team, employees and customers," said Pavlin Rahnev, CEO. "It's the biggest U.S. show for our company, and we are eager to support it but can't make a definitive statement as yet on our participation until we're closer to the show and have more information on the overall health crisis at hand."  

" are planning to attend NAB with the safety and wellbeing of our staff, partners and customers firmly in mind," says Scott Davies, CEO. "The team will continue to monitor the situation and follow the advice from the organisers and authorities."

SSIMWAVE says, "We're monitoring the situation with the safety of our team members foremost in our minds, of course, but our expectation at the moment is that we will be at NAB 2020 next month."

Not everyone is so sanguine, though.

"I do think NAB should reschedule, but if not, we’ll be there and will reach out to our customers and colleagues virtually as well," Sam Cercone,  managing partner at Brightline, which makes energy-efficient lighting systems.

Others are more blunt:

"Holding an international broadcast show at this time is bananas," says Owen Tyler, operations director at UK postproduction facility Evolutions.

Detailed information about COVID-19 can be found on the World Health Organization's website.

[We will update this article or write a follow-up as circumstances warrant. Photo courtesy NAB.]

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