The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Annual Convention and Exposition in Las Vegas during early April each year is one of the preeminent equipment shows for the film, television, and radio industries in the world. Nearly every equipment and software manufacturer involved in the industry attends and showcases their products.
Often, it’s when new products and services are released and shown for the first time. For example, last year, Blackmagic Products revealed their new Ursa cameras. Many companies do this. It’s an opportunity to see the products first hand and in many instances, see demonstrations of them.
As an attendee, you not only get to see all the technology, but you can attend dozens of industry seminars and meet leaders in the industry. During my time as I was working in the industry, I made the trip to NAB numerous times, taking in various seminars in addition to perusing the exhibition halls where all the manufacturers have set up their displays. This convention is one of the largest held at the Las Vegas Convention Center, and it is a lot to take in and absorb.
There are many reasons why professionals make the trip. Attendees consist of cinematographers and videographers, editors, grips, gaffers, engineers, audio engineers TV station management just to name a few. It is one of the best ways to keep abreast of the changing technology in media… and to make new contacts.
So, why should a teacher attend NAB?
1. It’s professional education.
Each year, many teachers have to undergo credentialing and recertification in their field. Part of that includes continuing professional education. This is not “that kind” of professional education, but that which professionals seek if they are looking to further their knowledge that will help them further their skills or their business. Attending NAB is not a class but you would find the professional seminars offered are extremely educational, if not groundbreaking in many ways. Now granted, a teacher is not going to receive any sort of certificate of completion or anything like that. That’s not what NAB is about, but it is an opportunity for a teacher, especially one that does not have industry experience, to step into the production arena, if only for a few days, and engage in a personal, professional learning environment. It’s an opportunity to see equipment, software, processes and attend seminars that are all in one place. It’s a chance to see where the industry is heading. One thing I learned from attending this year is SDI distribution is heading out; IP distribution is moving in. That’s a big deal in so many ways and will significantly impact schools in how they distribute in-house video.
2. It’s a place to network and get connected.
Working inside the walls of a school can be isolating. It takes effort to get professionals to come in to speak and demonstrate to your classes, and if your school is outside of a metropolitan area, with no TV stations or production houses nearby, then good luck with getting outside speakers. NAB affords teachers with opportunities to meet industry professionals, software and equipment designers and technicians, sales professionals, and yes, other teachers. One teacher I met last year, Tom Wilson of Hoover High School near Canton, Ohio, has become a a valuable and trusted colleague whom I’m indebted to for sharing what he has learned in the film and television production classroom. I’ve also met and created relationships with a number of equipment, software and service providers who have provided me with free software or services, equipment for demo, and have offered classes for students in the use of their equipment for free. These manufacturers also want you to buy their product, and in return, many find creative ways to help motivate you and your students to do so. It helps to know as many of these as you can, because you never know how they may be willing to help you, especially if you’re in education.
3. It’s a way to keep you and your program current, and relevant.
When I walked into the classroom for the first time seven years ago from having worked in the industry for more than 30 years, I was struck at how behind the times my predecessor and their program was. Not that he wasn’t a great teacher… he was one of the best. Yet not of the equipment in the classroom was anywhere near what students would encounter once they entered the workforce. I must have counted nearly 20 VHS decks, one working DV camera, and a digital switcher that was useless in our situation. High definition equipment was nowhere to be found and file-based editing was not even a consideration. Now, seven years later, we have one of the most modern television production facilities with broadcast cameras, two huge production studios with lighting grids, a separate editing lab with iMac computers and the Adobe Cloud for every student, a wide array of cameras, grip and gaffer equipment, and connections to a host of business partners and industry professionals. We have essentially become the television production house for our community. It would not have become that had it not been for the desire to create an environment that is more “workplace” than classroom. What I see at NAB, I bring back to the classroom and put it into place and action. That keeps my program and me, current and relevant.
What does it cost?
Money-wise, figure it will cost your school $1,200 - $2,000 for two or three days, depending on how many days you come for and from where you’re coming from. At a minimum, I would recommend two full days, three if you can. If you come for just the equipment exhibition, two days would give you ample opportunity to survey the convention and also drill down on specific vendors. Attendance at the exhibition is free. If you’re going to attend any of the seminars, NAB offers different packages, with the least expensive being about $165 for three seminars. And you do not have to be a member of NAB to attend either. I recommend arriving Sunday afternoon, especially if you live east of the Mississippi. It will give you time to get a feel for Las Vegas. As for air and hotel, you can find great bargains. This year, I booked a Las Vega Vacation Package through Southwest and received a better deal than purchasing air and hotel separately. You won’t need a car while you’re there, especially if you stay at any of the hotels along the strip. There are free shuttle buses that service all the major hotels, or you could take the Tram each day for about $10 per day. You’ll be doing a lot of walking, so make sure you have comfortable shoes. Dress is typically business or business casual.
What should you do next?
Start by asking yourself, “do you want to move your program to the next level?” If so, work with your principal, or College and Career Tech coordinator about the possibility of making the trip. Do you need to go every year? No, but I recommend it every two to three years. Technology changes quickly and can pass you by. With everything that goes on in the classroom, it’s difficult to carve out that time for professional education. However, this is one block of time, that’s well worth the effort.
Michael Britt is a teacher of film and television production at Central Educational Center (CEC) in Newnan, Georgia. CEC is the nationally renown College and Career Academy. Michael comes from a background of more than 30 years in film and television production, including a stint at Georgia Public Broadcasting where he leant his expertise to numerous shows including Georgia Outdoors, Georgia Music Hall of Fame Awards, and Georgia Business Report and numerous documentaries. He serves on the Board of Governors of the Southeast Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, where he chairs the Student Production Awards and the Scholarship Committee.