Monday, April 13, 2009

Going to The Desert to Find Some Hope

Today's Lesson: Going to The Desert to Find Some Hope

Every April, I make the annual trek of nearly 2,000 miles to Las Vegas, Nevada to attend the combined National Association of Broadcaster's trade show and the Broadcast Education Association's annual conference. The 2009 session will mark the tenth year in a row that I have made the trip.

I have been going long enough now to have seen the event in the good times and the not so good times. For example, in 2002 attendance dropped in the wake of the attacks on 9/11. Then in 2008, conference mainstays Avid and Apple both dropped out as the economy weakened.

What will 2009 hold? I don't know yet. But if hotel room rates are any indication, I suspect the attendance will be somewhat lower. Already I have received emails about cuts in hotel rates during that week. This is normally a time when hotels raise rates, rather than lower them. But after a drop in attendance in 2008 to 105,000, maybe the 2009 conference might dwindle to levels lower than 2002, when attendance was even lower.

This matters to me as an educator because one of the chief things I get from attending NAB is the chance to sit next to owners of broadcast outlets and ask them about their plans in regard to hiring. This year, amid a sea of horrible news about broadcasting, I am going to NAB to find hope. And I go not just seeking short-term hope, in the shape of jobs for my graduating seniors.

No indeed. This year, I go to NAB hoping that I will regain my optimism that broadcasting will matter in the future. As the pundits argue about how bad bad is, and the owners shout about localism saving broadcasting, I go to Las Vegas hoping against hope that radio and TV are not about to be relegated "has been" status by mobile and the web.

Now that internet penetration has achieved about 75% of the U.S., it's becoming something that could possibly supplant broadcasting's somewhat higher 99% penetration. In my lifetime, this is the first real challenge to broadcasting's dominance in terms of reaching people in a mass audience. say the internet is good. I won't argue. I spend ever-growing amounts of time using it for nearly everything. I have even stopped delivery of my local newspaper in favor of online news. But once things calm down for the day and I want to relax, I ain't sitting in front of the computer. I fire up the tube and let the warm glow wash over me. Mmmm....television-y.

A recent Nielsen report stated that "the average time a U.S. home used a TV set during the 2007-08 television season was up to 8 hours and 18 minutes per day, a record high since Nielsen started measuring television in the 1950’s"

So right now, TV matters. But I feel kind of like this is the final turn on my favorite old rollercoaster...things are slowing down and I can see that the ride is almost over. And over by the parking lot a brand new, bigger, shinier, faster roller coaster is being built.

Dr. Phil Hoffman is General Manager of The University of Akron’s Z-TV. He will do his best next week to blog from the convention and let you know if there's any hope to be had.