In huge—but not exactly unsurprising—news, NAB announced it will not hold its flagship event as scheduled in Las Vegas this April due to concerns over the COVID-19 outbreak, which the World Health Organization today officially declared a pandemic.
In a statement on the event website, NAB president and CEO Gordon H. Smith said, “In the interest of addressing the health and safety concerns of our stakeholders and in consultation with partners throughout the media and entertainment industry, we have decided not to move forward with NAB Show in April. We are currently considering a number of potential alternatives to create the best possible experience for our community.”
“It was impossible to move forward with the April Show in the current environment given concerns about public safety, which is our top priority,” says NAB senior vice president of communications Ann Marie Cumming. She added that the organization is “trying to get feedback from the community at large as to what they would like to see.” NAB Show New York is already set for October 21-22.
As recently as yesterday, NAB updated its “Coronavirus Updates and Resources” page with language indicating that the show would move forward, but as more exhibitors canceled each day, it appeared less and less likely that the show would be held as planned. “This was not an easy decision,” Smith said in his statement. “Fortunately, we did not have to make this decision alone, and are grateful to our NAB Show community for engaging with us as we grappled with the rapidly-evolving situation.”
Initial reaction among industry leaders was supportive. “Akamai fully supports and appreciates NAB’s decision to put off the 2020 NAB Show,” said Akamai executive vice president and GM, media & carrier, Adam Karon in a statement. “We recognize the weight of the decision and subsequent, wide-ranging ramifications that had to be considered. While we’re disappointed to miss this annual opportunity to personally connect with customers, partners and colleagues from around the world, we’re grateful that priority was rightly placed upon the health of everyone involved and taking steps to help prevent further spread of COVID-19.”
“Having attended 18 NAB shows in 22 years, myself and the entire BuyDRM Team are deeply saddened to hear of the show cancellation,” says BuyDRM CEO Christopher Levy. “We hope that the show hosts, exhibitors and sponsors are all able to work out the change in plans to everyone’s benefit and we look forward to the next NAB Show with great anticipation.”
“I think we’ve all shared the same concerns over the past few weeks, and we appreciate the care that NAB took in coming to this decision,” says Dr. Abdul Rehman, CEO of SSIMWAVE. “We’re sorry not to be among our customers and colleagues next month, but the call NAB made today was the right one.” A company spokesperson added that SSIMWAVE has already taken steps over the past few days to virtualize its demo suite of products that measure the viewer experience, and has laid groundwork to conduct meetings remotely. “SSIMWAVE will accelerate those plans over the next several days,” the spokesperson says.
Imagine Communications is also planning virtual events to make up for some of what’s lost by not having NAB as a place to update clients and meet new customers. “We absolutely agree with NAB’s decision and already had been taking steps to virtualize aspects of our participation,” says Jennifer Overbaugh, VP of global marketing. “We look forward to seeing our customers this year via a series of regionally-focused telepresence events that are due to kick off later this month. We look forward to rejoining our colleagues at next year’s show.”
Grass Valley also tweeted that the company is planning to connect with customers in a “virtual environment” to be announced soon. Last week, Vizrt and NewTek both announced dedicated online video channels that will feature news and updates that, until today, the companies were also planning on making live in Las Vegas.
Several exhibitors who requested not to be identified told Streaming Media in the last few days that they were planning on canceling, but were waiting to see what NAB would do. In the last week, AJA Video Systems, Nikon, Adobe, Avid, and Ross Video were among those who had already announced they would not attend the event.
Ross Video CEO David Ross summed up his company’s decision-making process in a widely praised post on LinkedIn yesterday, before NAB’s announcement, highlighting the concern that event attendees could bring the virus home with them even if they didn’t get sick themselves: “[Like] every person attending the show, all of us at Ross have friends and family in high risk categories that could die if they contracted COVID-19. Realizing we could bring this back to them made the decision very clear.
“Normally these days we bring over 200 employees to NAB,” he continued in a comment on his original post. “Of those, we can normally expect about 10 of them to come down with some flu, food poisoning, or other problem during the show. At NAB 2020, how do we treat these? Do we send them to the hospital to get tested (if hospitals are testing by then)? Do we wait for the results before sending them home? Does someone stay behind with them? Who would that be? If they are tested positive for COVID-19, what then? What do we do about all of the other Ross employees at the show? Do we self quarantine? Do we all fly home? Do we contact all of the nearly 10,000 customers that visited us at our booth? We didn’t have good answers for these questions.”
NAB Show Las Vegas drew more than 91,000 attendees in 2019.
[We’ll update this story with additional reactions as we receive them.]