The NAB Show 2021 Makes a Brave, Smart and Unusual Decision

For the second year in a row, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) cancelled their annual NAB Show. This was one of those rare opportunities where the right decision was made in spite of the money.

The NAB Show is legendary in our industry as a showcase of the latest media technology, expansive lectures and learning opportunities, and a chance for everyone in our industry to hobnob and buy each other drinks.

As Clayton Moore wrote in an email to me: “Humans like to congregate, it’s fun!  It makes you feel alive.  The energy and visiting with other people and marginal food
and bags of useless swag.  The hustle and bustle.  The sheer hit of technology [combined with] inevitable ideas and related conversations.  Fun!”

Last year, for the first time in its history, the NAB canceled the show due to the growing ravages of the COVID pandemic. This year, with high hopes the pandemic would be receding, they scheduled it for its regular slot in April. But, COVID had other plans. So the NAB postponed it till October.

But, again this year, COVID infections took a turn for the worse and, on September 15th, the NAB made the painful decision to cancel their annual event for the second time. The Association wrote:

“For more than a year we have worked tirelessly to bring our industry together safely in Las Vegas at NAB Show. Unfortunately, the pandemic and surge of the Delta variant has presented unexpected and insurmountable challenges for our global community.

“As we have always kept the best interest and safety of the industry as our priority, it has become apparent in the face of these challenges that we can no longer effectively host NAB Show or our co-located events, the Radio Show and Sales and Management Television Exchange, in person.

“NAB Show is the premiere destination for the media and entertainment industry and we will not move forward with a show that delivers anything less than the excellent our community has come to expect and deserves from us.”

There is no doubt this was a difficult decision. The NAB Show is an essential part of many companies’ marketing plans. Plus, the ability to get an in-depth look at our entire industry is equally important for many of us as we attempt to plan how we’ll implement media technology in the future.

But, in addition to being difficult, it was also smart and brave and correct. It takes courage to ignore the money and make a decision based upon what’s right for attendees and exhibitors.

I wrote Chris Brown, Executive Vice President and Managing Director of Global Connections and Events at the National Association of Broadcasters. In it, I said:

“I love the NAB Show – it is my favorite trade show. But this was absolutely the right decision to make. What you’ve done is delay the show for a year, but preserved it for the future.

“This must have been an enormously difficult decision. You have my sympathy – and respect. This took courage.”

Chris responded, in part:

“I appreciate the kind words, Larry. This is difficult on so many fronts. I am deeply disappointed for all of us, but cinching up to stay focused on what can be accomplished down the road.”

What made this decision so remarkable, to me, was that it would have been easy for the NAB to simply say: “The show is going on. Everyone who wants to come is welcome!” Easy because it puts the burden of deciding what to do on each individual person attending the event. It’s also easy because the NAB gets to keep the money, which, even in a reduced show, is substantial.

But, easy is not leadership. The NAB wisely decided that leadership requires short-term pain for long-term respect. What mattered more was not the money, but their audience. And in today’s world, those kinds of decisions are rare.

I look forward to attending the NAB Show next spring. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.


6 Responses to The NAB Show 2021 Makes a Brave, Smart and Unusual Decision

  1. Chris says:

    Would this have been influenced heavily by exhibitors and also visitors from around the globe not being allowed to enter USA (even if fully vaccinated)?
    “Everyone who wants to come is welcome!” is not actually true Larry – your borders are closed to most of the world until November.

    “It’s also easy because the NAB gets to keep the money, which, even in a reduced show, is substantial.” Not sure I agree with that statement either –
    I imagine that global travel restrictions for exhibitors/visitors would have a significant impact on revenues, and thus profits, which may have been the overriding deciding factor rather than anything altruistic. I’d be interested to hear other views, as I don’t mean it as a criticism of NAB, it is still a sensible decision, but more a business decision than you portray, in my opinion

    • Larry says:

      Chris:

      I’m sure international travel restrictions played a part. (And thanks for reminding me that I had left that out.)

      Smile… I’m not saying NAB was totally altruistic but for events this big there is a huge inertia to not change direction; to accept what they can get – even if fewer people show up. For them to actually stop, think clearly about their show and weigh the pros and cons of hosting the event takes a great deal of effort. These days, many companies would focus simply on the short-term: “Let’s just launch this, then tweak it for the next iteration.” NAB was smarter than that.

      Larry

    • Rob says:

      They cancelled because their attendance numbers were likely in the TANK!

      I had plans to go and almost bought my airfare and registration and hotel…until one day I checked their website again and lo and behold they installed a mandatory vaccine requirement to come to the conference.

      Done. I’m out…after coming to NAB for almost 10 straight years.

      Their is NO WAY I’m getting the vax anyway, and MILLIONS of others around the USA and world agree with me….which probably translated to several thousands upon thousands of would-be NAB attendees who now are backing out.

      The biggest mistake they made was caving into the pressure of the COVID vax freaks who are trying to destroy our freedoms and violate our personal health decisions.

      You blew it NAB. This is on you. No sympathy from me. Try again in October without a vax mandate and your attendee numbers will return…and so will I.

      • Larry says:

        Rob:

        I’m sorry, but I have no respect for anyone who won’t get vaccinated. The vaccine isn’t a political statement, it is a public health necessity.

        I will not hire, work with or support anyone who is opposed to the vaccine.

        You are welcome to your opinions, but your opinions are endangering the health of the rest of us, as the current death rate will attest.

        Larry

        • George says:

          Larry, thanks for your unequivocal response re: NAB’s would-be vaccination requirement.
          Simple caring about others is all that separates us from tribal warfare. What a shame to see “love thy neighbor” transformed into a shouting match about personal freedoms. It’s also a shame to see that sociopathic argument amplified by profit-seekers in our own industry.
          Your response was brave; much respect sir!

  2. While I have really missed attending NAB for two years running, I thought NAB’s decision to cancel the October show in Las Vegas was one of the most far-sighted decisions ever made by the NAB. I’ll be back – we’ll all be back because NAB has proved itself to truly be a class act. Loss of revenue? Enormous. Gain of respect and credibility? Unlimited.

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