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Benjamin Spillman

Big Las Vegas expo loses clients

26 February 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- One of the most lucrative trade shows in Las Vegas has lost the hottest name in consumer electronics.

Apple -- maker of the iPod music player and the chic, Internet-browsing iPhone -- will no longer exhibit at the National Association of Broadcasters show, an annual television industry event that attracts about 100,000 guests.

Company leaders no longer view packing bags and hauling a delegation to Las Vegas to exhibit at the trade show as a cost-effective way to promote the company, Apple spokesman Anuj Nayar said.

Instead, Apple is diverting more resources to its retail stores and Web site, which Nayar said reach about 100 million people annually.

That makes the audience at NAB, the broadcast industry's largest trade show, look tiny by comparison.

"Apple is participating in fewer trade shows every year," Nayar said. "There are better ways for us to reach our customers."

The company will still send some representatives to the show, but it won't be exhibiting during the event, held April 11-17 at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Apple isn't the only NAB defector. A vice president at Avid Technology told the convention industry publication Tradeshow Week his company will also bail on NAB after 18 years exhibiting at the event.

Jeff Stewart, vice president of marketing for Avid's video division, told the magazine that customers are "less concerned with whether we have an exhibition presence at major trade shows like NAB."

The defections won't be a big blow to NAB, an event that attracts about 1,600 exhibitors in addition to stars of television and network news and top government regulators.

"You almost have to be at NAB if you are a serious player," said Dennis Wharton, NAB's executive vice president of media relations.

Wharton reeled off a list of participants that includes Microsoft Corp., Sony Corp., Panasonic and International Business Machines Corp. He also said the show picked up 220 new exhibitors for 2008 and said another 100 are expanding their space.

The 2008 show has segments on content creation, management, commerce, distribution and delivery and consumption.

"This show is, year in and year out, one of the largest trade shows in the world," Wharton said. "It is not just about broadcasting."

But defectors' comments highlight concerns about whether the event is keeping pace with modern consumer media tastes or tied too closely to the past when broadcast network television was the undisputed king of content distribution.

If NAB loses relevance, it would lose attendance, too.

That's important in Las Vegas where conventions and trade shows are a growing part of the local economy, having generated an estimated $8.2 billion for Southern Nevada last year.

The event is a cash cow for just about every niche of the hospitality economy, from the cab and limousine companies that haul conventioneers, to the servers and bartenders who feed them, to the casino dealers who benefit from their gambling.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority estimates the 2008 event will be worth nearly $185 million to the local economy, and that doesn't count the guests' gambling losses.

Although the convention industry remains healthy and NAB is still a major event, there is at least one example in recent history of a large Las Vegas show losing relevance.

Comdex, a technology show that once attracted as many as 200,000 people at its peak, folded its tents and hasn't been held in Las Vegas since 2003.

Steve Safran, senior vice president of Media 2.0 and 15-year veteran of local news on television and the Internet, said the NAB event doesn't effectively help broadcast industry employees learn how to deliver news effectively on the World Wide Web.

That's a problem, Safran said, because Internet-only sources for news and entertainment are chipping away at the broadcasting.

"There are changes in the industry that go far beyond the equipment that we use," he said, citing the NAB show emphasis on exhibits for satellite trucks, camera hardware and other equipment. "The last several keynotes I have heard they have not mentioned the word 'Internet' at all."

Safran also criticized NAB officials for enabling denial of the effect of the Internet on broadcasting by focusing on issues like government regulation of the airwaves and opposition to developments in satellite radio, such as the proposed merger between satellite broadcasters XM and Sirius.

"They are trying to make people comfortable in what is a very uncomfortable business environment," Safran said. "The last thing broadcasters need right now is misplaced comfort. They need guidance."