Your source for CE industry intelligence
ATSC 3.0 a Big Draw

NAB Show 2022 Projected to Have 55% of 2019 Attendance

The 2022 NAB Show is projected to have about 55% of the attendance of the last in-person show in 2019, but broadcasters told us it feels like a step toward the industry getting back to where it was pre-COVID-19. The show runs April 23-27 at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Start A Trial

"In a normal year we usually have 40 to 60 meetings” with station buyers and sellers at the convention, said Patrick Communications media broker Larry Patrick, a member of the NAB radio board. “This year I have the same amount.” ATSC 3.0 is expected to be a major focus of the show, but most broadcasters we interviewed said their primary goal for the show is reconnecting after years without an industry convention. “That’s absolutely going to be the biggest part of the show,” said radio broker Ed Henson.

The 2019 show had 91,460 registered attendees, while the trade group is expecting roughly 50,000 this time around, a spokesperson said. The show is also expecting more than 950 exhibitors, the spokesperson said. In 2019, the show had over 1600 exhibitors (see 2204060036). With the pandemic ongoing and many broadcasters having suffered financially due to advertising slowdowns, 50 or 60% attendance compared to pre-COVID-19 numbers would still be impressive, said Cromwell Group CEO Bayard Walters: "That would be a home run."

This will be the first in-person NAB Show for FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, but broadcasters said they’re not expecting her to break any news about broadcasting deregulation at the trade show. Rosenworcel announced a positive COVID-19 test last week (see 2204110048), but there’s no indication her attendance plans have changed. NAB and the FCC didn’t comment.

Broadcasters still expect the FCC to make some ownership moves and conclude the 2018 ownership quadrennial review, but there's no clear timeline for that, with the agency still at 2-2 and no certain confirmation date for nominee Gigi Sohn, broadcasters and industry attorneys said. ”I don’t think anything is going to happen until we get a fifth commissioner,” said Gray Television Senior Vice President-Government Relations and Distribution Rob Folliard.

NAB recently urged the agency to move on the 2018 QR without waiting for a fifth commissioner, and some industry officials said NAB could seek a court intervention to move the issue along (see 2111120057). It's considered difficult to persuade courts to rule against the FCC when there isn’t a final order to contest, said Cheryl Leanza, United Church of Christ Media Justice Ministry Policy Counsel and a frequent NAB critic.

Some radio broadcasters want the FCC to loosen local ownership caps, but none of the broadcasters we interviewed considered that likely under the current administration. “I don’t expect to see any headlines" about ownership deregulation at the 2022 show, said Patrick. Many TV broadcasters also are hoping the FCC will act soon to clarify the multicasting rules for ATSC 3.0. Numerous FCC staff are also attending the show, including Media Bureau Chief Holly Saurer, Video Division Chief Barbara Kreisman, and Audio Division Chief Albert Shuldiner. Walters said the FCC presence is one reason he attends the show: “You get to ask them questions you’d never get the answers to, otherwise.”

Several of the issues broadcasters are focused on would require action by Congress, rather than the FCC, noted Gray's Folliard. That includes a proposed law to allow news entities to collectively bargain with tech platforms over their content, a legislative battle over charging radio stations performance royalties, and efforts to revive a minority tax certificate.

Many broadcasters said they’re looking to the NAB Show to see the progress of ATSC 3.0. which has been at the center of NAB’s promotion of the event. ATSC said Thursday it expects 38 booths to feature ATSC 3.0-related products, with 15 sessions to address the status of commercial deployments. “So many markets have been deployed” since the 2019 show, said Folliard. This will be the first NAB Show where many broadcasters are actively using the standard, he said. Attendees at the show will be looking for answers to the question “How do you make money with it?” said Patrick. Regular 3.0 proponents Sinclair Broadcast announced several press events on 3.0 developments at the trade show. Cocola Broadcasting CEO Gary Cocola said his company is hoping to gather information about the viability of ATSC 3.0 for low-power TV stations.

Most broadcasters we spoke with said they were attending the show, but they all said they know many who aren’t, either due to expense or concerns about COVID-19. Walters said he feels secure about attending because he’s vaccinated and boosted. Cocola won’t attend in person after nearly dying during a bout with the disease earlier this year. “I don’t want to expose myself” to another infection, he said, though he conceded there’s value in the networking at the show. Proof of a negative COVID-19 test or vaccination will be required to enter the convention, and masking inside is “recommended, not required,” says the NAB Show’s Health and Safety page. The event will also feature on-site COVID-19 testing, social distancing, and an upgraded HVAC system, NAB said.

This will be the first NAB Show to also incorporate the Radio Show, but radio broadcasters told us they aren’t concerned about being absorbed. NAB has “made a concerted effort” to highlight radio at the convention, Walters said. There are more sessions pointed toward radio than in any previous NAB Show, blogged the association Friday.