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Ever-longer walk through NAB

Is NAB outgrowing its usefulness, literally? One has to wonder about a trade show that, only five years ago, offered attendees the challenge of strolling through 615,000 square feet of exhibit area and approximately 1,100 exhibitors.

But, in a society increasingly defined by a super-size mentality (and the related banishment of the word "small"), enough is never enough. Thus, NAB this year will expand past the 1 million-square-foot mark.

"Right now, it looks like we'll have approximately 1,600 exhibitors, which compares to 1,510 last year, and we're projecting over 1 million square feet," says NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton. "And as for attendance, we're being cautiously optimistic and think we'll top last year's 115,000."

It will no doubt be a challenge for attendees to see all that they want to see. And the NAB expects that next year's show will be even bigger. On the plus side, though, the Las Vegas Convention Center is building more exhibit space near the main convention center, which will result in a Center Hall to join the North and South Halls for NAB 2002.

Part of the reason for the growth is that the show has become much more than a show solely for broadcasters. "We've got satellite, telecommunications, video post-production, multimedia, Internet streaming, and mobile media," says Wharton. "And then there are radio and TV broadcasters."

One new exhibit area this year will be eTopia, located in the basement of the Sands convention center. It will feature companies that are new to the media market and offer new technologies and services.

"It's a way to highlight them, and it's a selling point to attract visitors to companies with new technologies," says Wharton. "A few dotcoms that were there last year have fallen by the wayside, but we've replaced a number of those with companies that will be on display, particularly with eTopia."

NAB will comprise more than just the exhibitors. It will also encompass a number of sessions, panels and conference tracks. Granted, the show officially lasts only four days, but that's why it's important for many of the conference sessions to get a jump on the show and start their discussions prior to the official show opening. It also allows attendees a chance to come into town a couple of days early and get a taste of related technical, management and legislative sessions without subtracting time from the show floor.

Take, for example, the NAB Broadcast Engineering Conference. This year will be conference No. 55, co-produced with the Society of Broadcast Engineers (SBE). A number of topics will be covered, starting on April 21, the Saturday before the exhibit doors open.

The first session of the conference gets right into the heart of an issue facing every broadcast facility. It tackles the subject of Broadcast Networking, in a workshop slated to be offered from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in room N249 at the Convention Center. Also slated for that day will be an SMPTE MPEG-4 seminar running from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Hilton Pavilion 9.

There will also be a Digital Television tutorial on April 21, given by the IEEE BTS in Convention Center room N247. The tutorial will cover such topics as monitoring and troubleshooting DTV broadcast streams and implementation of data broadcasting in a DTV station.

And, on Sunday, April 22, another important session will be offered in Convention Center room N247. "Meeting the DTV Deadline," which will run from 9:30 a.m. to noon, will comprise discussions of a variety of topics, including a look back at what has been learned by the stations that have already moved to DTV. And from 1 to 6 p.m. another panel in the same room will examine datacasting technologies and applications.

Also getting a jump on the show is the Television Management Conference, which will offer exhibit hours from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. beginning Sunday at Las Vegas Hilton Pavilions 1-3.

The theme of the conference is "Facing the Realities of the Digital Television Age." Its goal is to examine and determine marketplace realities to help stations set short-term strategies and define long-range objectives.

For example, on April 22, there will be a session called "Over-the-Air Digital: Crossing the Finish Line!," which will be moderated by former FCC Chairman Richard E. Wiley. It will offer a look at pending technical, regulatory and developmental issues. Panelists will include Lynn Claudy, of the NAB, Gary Shapiro of CEA, Robert Pepper of the FCC, among others.

Also on April 22 will be a panel called Should Advertisers Reboot?," to be held from 2:45 to 4 p.m. Financial, Internet, advertising and broadcast entrepreneurs will be on hand to discuss online advertising issues.

With regard to new media, there will be a workshop that begins on April 21 titled (appropriately) New Media Weekend Workshop. On April 21, the first track, "Business of New Media," will take place in Ballroom G of the Venetian Hotel from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Subjects will include new-media concept and development, intellectual-property rights, production and distribution. Guild and union issues will be discussed in separate sessions.

The second track, to be held on April 22 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the same ballroom, is titled "Investing in New Media." Securing funding will be the primary focus. Topics include content plays, traditional venture-capital and specialized funds, alternative funding, digital revenue management, and seizing the attention of a new generation.

All forms of media will be in play at this year's NAB show. Wharton says that anyone who is thinking of attending should register immediately and get hotel and flight arrangements booked, because hotels and flights are filling up.

And getting there earlier than Monday may be one way to make the show more useful and informative.