NAB, the National Association of Broadcasters, just had their giant and leg-numbing conference in Vegas. Their byline is “Where Content Comes to Life”. I went to see if it really is a place for content creators.
The answer is yes and no, depending on what you want or expect.
No, it’s not a place to present or pitch your concepts. No, you’re not likely to make contacts that will help your show (with an exception I’ll talk about in a minute). Yes, there’s a lot to cool stuff for creators who produce cool content. Yes, there are some (but not enough) content talks.
There were over 92,000 people at the 2012 event. It filled the entire Vegas convention center and part of an outdoor area. Everyone was talking about how much they walked every day. For some reason, I always had to walk to the opposite side of the center for whatever I wanted to see next. Hell, even walking through whatever casino you stay in seems to take forever just to get out to the front door. But at least all that walking makes you hungry enough for the giant buffets in Vegas.
I was told that content was growing at the show and they even have an area called the Content Theater. Not exactly what I thought it would be. The Content Theater is a small free-standing enclosure where they had talks with industry executives. Some speakers were interesting, like Gerhard Zeiler, CEO of the giant RTL Group of stations in Germany, but the questions were pretty dry, so not a lot of interesting tidbits were picked up.
The opening session featured the hot Teri Hatcher from Desperate Housewives, but again, not much creative content discussion.
However, there were a few sessions that rocked. King of the World James Cameron gave a presentation with his Cameron Pace Group partner Vince Pace. They spoke about 3D TV production. You may not be a believer in 3D being the next thing for TV, but that would only be because you weren’t there. Holy shit the samples they showed were amazing! When 3D is shot right, it draws you into the action and into the interviews in a way that 2D can’t touch. Of course, shooting it right is the hard part. At least it was.
Cameron Pace Group has developed systems, cameras, gear and production trucks that can produce 2D and 3D TV at nearly the same price as 2D alone. They recently did a 35 3D camera rig shoot for the X-Games on the snow covered slopes of Aspen. Actually, they called it a 5D shoot. Each 3D camera also output a 2D signal, all of which was switched live in the truck. They also had 14 cameras at the US Open and 28 cameras at the Masters. Next fall we’ll see an 18 camera shoot they did for Cirque du Soleil, the samples of which are amazing, and which included underwater work, steadicam shots, jib rigs, handheld and more. With the right equipment and knowledge, 3D really is spectacular.
Cameron made an interesting comment when asked about using their equipment to shoot soap operas and sitcoms. He said a 3-4 camera shoot on a stage would be easy compared to their 35 camera shoot in the snow and he looks forward to working on a standard multi-camera TV shoot. (He also admitted he prefers being a cameraman. That would be an interesting production.) 3D is often more intriguing when the camera is close on a person talking than in big action scenes. We can actually relate to it more since it almost perfectly replicates our own conversations with people in 3D space.
Another really cool event, because I’m a TV and zombie geek, was the panel discussion with the creator and producers of The Walking Dead series. Comic creator, Robert Kirkman, is one of the first creators I’ve heard who understands that when you move a story from one medium, like comics, to another, like TV, certain things need to change. He is all for making the shows somewhat different than his comic. He works in the writers room and loves how the series has turned out.
OK, there is one really awesome piece of hardware I saw that has nothing to do with creating content, but I have to talk about it briefly. A few of the booths, like Sony, had glasses-free 3D TV displays. I’m amazed how quickly this technology is working out. But the Dolby 3D TV unit knocked my socks off. In fact, everyone at their booth was amazed. The image looked incredible and it looked just as good from 45 degrees off to the side. They showed lots of action footage, including some scenes from the Captain America movie.
Another super cool product is the Segway with a steadicam attachment, the Steadiseg. I want one. I don’t need one. I probably wouldn’t use one. I just want one.
I saw lots of equipment that I want, but not a lot of prices I wanted to pay. But it did help me understand what I needed. A number of things I saw, like cheap jibs and LED lights and teleprompters, got me hungry, and Amazon and eBay satisfied my hunger with much lower prices.
One press event I went to was relevant to independent creators, but not in an obvious way. Limelight Networks, which sets up online video streaming solutions, talked about their systems. Fine. Not very interesting. But, they also brought in George Gomez, the web director for cesarsway.com, the website for Dog Whisperer star Cesar Millan.
The Dog Whisperer is a popular series on National Geographic, but the website is owned by Cesar Millan. This is important for creators to understand. Cesar built his own site to build his brand using the success of the show. If his only presence was on the National Geographic site, it would end shortly after they stopped producing new episodes. This way, he has control over the longevity of his brand.
I tried out a few editing software titles while I was there. I’m not happy with Avid and Final Cut Pro X dropped too many tools that I use. I tried out the new Sony Vegas Pro, since I recently upgraded to their a77 digital SLR cameras shooting 60fps 1080i. Nice. But I also checked out the latest version of Adobe Premiere. It’s hard to beat the interactivity and nesting of native files between Photoshop, After Effects and Premiere. The tools are stronger and faster. The interface is intuitive and I’m familiar with it. It impressed me so much I bought the suite this week. (new purchases of CS5.5 get a free upgrade to CS 6 this summer)
I also saw a demo of a future version of Premiere that allows collaborative editing over the web with all the files staying on the main server. I was shocked at how easy and fast it was. I love that you don’t need to move the master files and you can work from anywhere and still see your edits and effects in real time. Everything uses off the shelf hardware. It’s the software that got smart enough. No release date yet, but watch for it.
Smoke made some big price reductions too. Long ago, this massive effects, compositing and editing software was around $90,000. Then it sold for around $15,000 until just now. Now you can get it for around $3,500. Prices have come a long way, baby. Of course, if you’re on a PC, you’re out of luck, it’s a Mac only product.
Earlier, I promised a story about how one creator at NAB was able to use contacts he made there to help him with his show. Doug Stanley, CEO and reality king of Ridgeline Entertainment (and Emmy winner as producer of Discovery’s Deadliest Catch), was at NAB meeting with potential sponsors for his latest deep sea adventure series, The Longest Swim. Doug and his team were meeting not only with satellite and broadcast providers, but with equipment manufacturers of all types.
The Longest Swim is no ordinary show. It follows Ben LeComte as he swims from Japan to San Francisco. That’s right. He’ll swim from Asia to the United States; 5,500 miles. (He’s already swum the Atlantic ocean.). Production will need boats, satellites, water-proof gear, underwater equipment and more. It will be a 6 month high seas adventure and it will be broadcast live on Facebook. Check out the show on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/TheLongestSwim .
NAB was a perfect place for Doug to meet everyone he needed to, and to check out all the gear he will need in one place. With a high-profile and demanding deep sea adventure like this, he needs lots of production support. Doug said the response at the show for his concept was amazing.
So is it worth the trip for creators? Yes, if you want to check out lots of equipment in one place. No, if you think it will help you sell your show.
I’ll be back, but probably not every year. I’ll wait a year or two to see the bigger advances in everything. Plus, it will take that long to rest my legs.
Mark Simon is a director, producer, board artist and pitch expert. He’s worked on over 3,000 productions and is the animation producer for Fox’s Tooth Fairy 2. He’s written 10 books for artists and works with TV show creators on packaging and pitching their concepts. Go to www.Storyboards-East.com  and www.SellYourTvConceptNow.com .