Mutual Assured Confusion
April 10, 2015
The thing I like about the annual NAB Show, which is convening in Las Vegas this weekend, is that the "B" in NAB, fot the purposes of this show, increasingly stands for... nothing. At least, it doesn't really mean "Broadcasters," even though a large portion of the proceedings does involve broadcasters and addresses broadcasting issues. But since a few years back, the Spring convention, once really a television station owner's domain, has become more of an all-purpose any-medium-will-do producers' showcase, and that's for the better.
Here's why: There's more opportunity at a show like this to have radio people and television people interact with people approaching content production from an entirely different background. Internet video is a big thing at this show. ANY video is a big thing. And, with the addition of interplay with NMX, the podcasters' and streamers' convention, as well as the usual day-before RAIN Summit dealing with new media from a sort-of-radio perspective, it's become one of the rare moments of the year when people from every corner of what we do are in one place at one time.
But the wisdom rarely comes from the panels. Take it from someone who has to cover an endless parade of panels and presentations, most -- not all, but the lion's share -- really don't tell you anything you shouldn't know already. The thing I can take away from this year's panels before even attending them (yeah, that's a healthy attitude) is that, once again, everyone's an expert yet nobody, as William Goldman wrote of Hollywood, knows anything. It's almost amusing (the "almost" part is because rushing from one end of the insanely massive Las Vegas Convention Center to the other to the Encore to the Not-The-Hilton-Anymore back to the other end of the Convention Center to sit through all of it is anything but amusing). There will be pronouncements that radio is dead and that radio is alive and that radio is critical but not terminal. There will be pronouncements that podcasting is the future and that podcasting is a flash in the pan. There will be pronouncements that marketing is the key and that marketing is a waste of time. There will be pronouncements that programmatic selling is great for radio and that it is a disaster for radio and that it will be neither here nor there. There will be pronouncements that everything will be mobile and everything will be video and everything will be some kid with a webcam in his bedroom and everything will be 4K or 8K or a BazillionK and everything will stream and everything will be everything. This will all happen, there's nothing I can do to prevent it, and I have to make the interminable drive to Vegas and sit through it anyway because it's what I do.
Why am I encouraged anyway? Precisely because nobody knows anything. The level of apprehension about the future that's pervasive in the industry can be corrosive, but it can also be a gateway for creative people to find new ways to make what we do work in a new age, and getting a whole bunch of creative yet confused people together can't hurt. That includes sales and management people, too. It's not a bad thing to get a hundred thousand people together, put a bunch of ideas and technology together, and see if some can't sort it all out. Most won't. But the value is in people like you looking at some piece of technology on the exhibit floor and thinking, hey, I have an idea how to use that. It's in radio people who think they've done it all meeting podcast people who think they know it all (hint: they're all wrong). It's in running into someone from a different discipline and comparing perspectives. And, well, it's in sitting in the back of the room at some panel and, just before losing consciousness, hearing someone say something and thinking, hey, that person's full of crap but there's a better way of looking at this issue. The latter's usually my M.O. It's one thing to be constantly negative, but there's a great deal of benefit in taking one further step and finding alternatives to the B.S. you're hearing that might actually work.
Which is why I still go to these things. (That, and it's my job.) Yes, it's nice to have a chance to see people you don't see the rest of the year, but it's also about seeing people you don't know, and exchanging and finding ideas, even if they don't come from the panels that are supposed to provide those answers. And if all else fails, you ARE in Vegas. I shouldn't have to explain that further.
While I get ready to hit the road, I'll just quickly remind you that All Access News-Talk-Sports' Talk Topics is the place to go for show prep, with hundreds of items and ideas and bad jokes all accessible (see what I did there? Stop throwing things) by clicking here. And the Talk Topics Twitter feed at @talktopics has every story individually linked to the appropriate item. Meanwhile, we have another great "10 Questions with..." this week, with Zach McCrite, host at 107.7 The Franchise in Oklahoma City and the podcast "The Podcast About Sports Radio." Zach is using the podcast to explore how some of the most creative and important people in sports radio approach the medium, learning a lot along the way.
Full Disclosure: I also serve as Director of Programming for Nerdist Industries (a division of Legendary Pictures), which includes the Nerdist Podcast Network, one of your major podcast entities.
As usual, if you're going to Las Vegas for the convention, track me down and say hello. I'll be in my customary spot next to a power outlet in the back of the room, so I won't be too hard to find.