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Avid Abandons NAB in ’08

Hardware giant Avid Technology announced last week that it won’t exhibit at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) convention in Las Vegas next spring. It will instead spend its marketing dollars on smaller, more targeted customer events and training initiatives.

Exiting NAB is a bold decision by the nonlinear editor, server and storage supplier. Avid has grown its broadcast portfolio in recent years with acquisitions of Pinnacle Systems and Sundance Automation but lost market share in nonlinear editing to Apple Computer and its low-cost Final Cut Pro system. It has long been one of the higher-profile technology vendors to exhibit at NAB, and last year occupied a 14,400-square-foot booth in the South Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center.

“It was a surprising move,” says Avid customer Mark Johnson, chief engineer for LIN-owned WANE in Fort Wayne, Ind., which upgraded its newsroom to a file-based Avid system last spring. “Their presence at NAB is a huge one.”

Avid CEO David Krall stepped down last July, and the company is still seeking his replacement. Later in the summer, the Tewksbury, Mass.-based firm announced a restructuring that laid off 129 staffers, primarily from its video division. But Graham Sharp, vice president and general manager of Avid’s Video division, says Avid is in good financial health and the NAB decision has nothing to do with Krall’s exit or the restructuring. Instead, Avid’s internal research suggested that broadcast customers “felt we had lost touch with them,” says Sharp, and that a big, expensive booth at NAB wasn’t improving the level of communication. The reasoning was similar to Avid’s decision in 2000 to stop exhibiting at the IBC show in Amsterdam, says Sharp, who adds that Avid will still be in Las Vegas during NAB to meet with customers, probably at a hotel.

“The great thing about marketing is it’s all about focus,” he says. “When you look at the markets we play in, the easiest guys to get to are broadcasters—I already know who the executives in call-letter stations are. I feel by showing up in Vegas, planting a big flag on the show floor, and spending an absolute fortune to say, 'Have a good look at Avid,’ we actually have a very poor customer touch with them.

“The booth is very loud, and you’re competing with demonstrations from other vendors. You get to meet a key customer and shout at him for half an hour, and then he moves on. And that costs many hundreds of dollars per engagement. I could take every call-letter broadcaster out for a slap-up meal and a good bottle of wine for the amount I spend shouting at him at NAB. Our marketing dollars are going up, but we’re going to spend them on much more personal engagements.”

For its part, NAB is unfazed by Avid’s departure. Avid alerted NAB of its decision not to exhibit about a month ago, says NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton, and NAB doesn’t expect a problem filling the space. The 2008 show is currently slated to have 1,600 exhibitors and some 110,000 attendees, and collections to date are pacing ahead of revenue projections for the show, says Wharton, who won’t disclose financial details.

“We wish them well,” says Wharton. “If they come back in 2009, we’ll welcome them back with open arms.”

Avid plans to release more details on its 2008 marketing plans in February. Most customers’ initial reaction to Avid’s NAB exit has been negative, Sharp admits: “Most people start with the stance of saying, 'You’re completely nuts, you’ll look like you’re defeated, like you’re giving up.’ Then we start to explain our reasoning to them, and they say, 'Oh, that makes sense.’”