03. January 2017 · Comments Off on Lather, Rinse, Repeat · Categories: Convention, Work

And it begins anew.

2017 is in its third day and I’m sitting at the gate in Long Beach Airport, waiting to head to the first of several conventions this year, as in every year. It’s what I do, I cover conventions, and there are worse fates in life, no doubt. This time, it’s CES — the CTA has decreed that it’s just CES now, not International CES or the Consumer Electronics Show — and I’m going just for the preliminaries (opening trend speeches, Media Day and some panels, one hectic day of the full deal) this year because I have to be back for personal reasons before the convention hits full speed. I’d love to be able to do these things the way others do, foregoing the panels and wandering the show floors checking out the wares, but I have a job to do, so that isn’t going to happen.

I’m more skeptical than ever about what the consumer electronics business is hyping these days, because, let’s face it, what we’ve seen them push in the last several years hasn’t been impressive. 3D TVs flopped and flopped hard. 4K TVs are selling only because the price dropped to commodity levels, but you don’t see much 4K content. The Internet of Things is coming but people seem pretty unenthusiastic about it. Wearables? In people’s junk drawers within a few months, though the technology will find its way into the medical field before long. Drones? Please. The one thing that they show at CES that will be a game changer is the autonomous car, which stretches the definition of “consumer electronics” a bit but will obviously be everywhere at some point. Yet we’ve been seeing that at CES for years. This year’s hot thing? No clue. Guess the CTA will spin that as the maturing of the industry, or they’ll stress growth in developing countries. Yeah, that’ll work OK.

But I’ll be writing plenty about that this week for All Access and maybe here, too. This is how every year really starts for me; it’s not officially a new year unless I’m off to Vegas for CES. Here we go.

20. April 2016 · Comments Off on NAB Show, Day Five: That’s All He Wrote · Categories: Convention

The end came, as it always does, early. I was in the back of the room during Wednesday’s NAB Show Digital Strategies for Radio session — a grueling five-and-a-half hour parade of stultification in a single room with no breaks — when the urge to leave became overwhelming. So I did,

The theme of the convention for radio this year was, if there was any theme at all, “The Best Defense Is To Get Really, Really Defensive.” AM/FM radio, I was told, is indispensable to all. The 93% reach number was trotted out several times. Podcasting was featured, but in an anthropological way, a curiosity approached more in terms of whether anyone’s making any money on it and a place radio can put radio-style programming rather than a separate art form and medium. Certainly, there were no podcasting stars on display.

Yeah, but it’s not a podcasting conference, you might say. But, as the NAB is fond of saying, the Spring show is a content show. “Content is King,” the slogan read this year, only about a decade or so after that phrase was a thing. And, certainly, the show has forsaken the “B” in NAB — broadcasters are segregated into small areas of the massive exhibit halls and into narrow management and engineering conference tracks, while the majority of the show involves video production, with an emphasis on online and SVOD content. So, yeah, why not podcasting? But unlike our own Worldwide Radio Summit, there were no speakers you’d identify primarily as a podcast star. (Scratch that — Graham Elwood was there, but I didn’t run into him. He would count, but he was decidedly not being treated as a major attraction, relegated to a panel right on the exhibit floor, maximum capacity a few dozen.) You’d think they’d take a run at a Maron, a Carolla, a Hardwick or Koenig or Alex Blumberg or Dan Carlin.

But they didn’t. Status quo was celebrated. (Not Status Quo the band, either.) And at about 1 pm Pacific time today, I was done with that. I got up, walked out, headed for the monorail, got my rental car, and drove off onto the horizon… okay, to Henderson to kill time at a Barnes and Noble for the Wi-Fi before heading to my flight. But you get the idea.

19. April 2016 · Comments Off on NAB Show, Day Four: The Sweet Smell Of Success · Categories: Convention

The less said about today, the better. Nothing particularly bad happened; it was just boring. After a nice meeting with a couple of industry colleagues back at the hotel and a lovely gathering of radio folks at the Palm last night, today was… meh. Dull panel in the morning, interminable Radio Luncheon, general fog.

And the Perfume Cloud. This morning, after a panel at the Encore that was less than illuminating, I caught the last shuttle to the Convention Center, the next to last party to board. The last party to board was a couple without badges, clad in black, brushing past me and sitting a few rows behind.

The scent hit a few seconds later. Imagine every bottle of perfume and cologne and body wash and deodorant in a department store cosmetics department, emptied in the bus aisle and intensified. It was practically mustard-gas intense, so intense you could taste it. There was no escape. The windows were sealed. The traffic was slow.

There have been several moments that summed up the convention experience for me. That was one of them. The other today came in the long, winding hallway that leads from the upper level of the Convention Center to the Westgate ballroom area, when a conventioneer, a small, bald man in a suit, walking ahead of me, calmly, without any outward emotion and without breaking stride, unleashed an enormous, earthquake-like, wall-rattling fart. He gave no acknowledgement of his accomplishment. He just kept walking as if nobody else was there.

I was there. OF COURSE I WAS. And that’s NAB Show 2016: I’m told there are some interesting things going on in the video part of this thing, but I wouldn’t know. For me, it’s all perfume and farts.

18. April 2016 · Comments Off on NAB Show, Day Three: Perchance To Dream · Categories: Convention

I was unprepared for the entire convention panel experience to be summed up in one incident, but there it was, this afternoon, in a hotel ballroom, the ultimate commentary on what I do for a living. While three Congressional aides droned on about legislative activity regarding communications issues, being careful not to say much about anything, the gentleman sitting next to me was snoring.

Loudly.

Snoring and snorting and drooling, he was. He tipped forward, then jolted awake; he closed his eyes again, instantly fell asleep, snored, and tipped to his right, directly at me, before jolting awake once more. And then he leaned back and fell asleep again.

That was my cue to get out of there. As I slipped out of my seat and up the aisle towards the exit, I could hear him snoring again.

Maybe he was tired; Lord knows, I sometimes drift off momentarily at these things. But snoring, waking, and snoring again is pretty extreme. And understandable. Most panels at these conferences mystify me, because I work in industries nominally part of “show business,” yet the panels have no show business about them. The most we get is PowerPoint, but even that’s rare. More likely, it’s three or four or five or, at some, six or eight panelists, usually white middle aged males, monotoning their way through whatever topic is at hand, making everything a chore. Last week, when I hosted a panel on podcasting in Hollywood, I took care to bring guests who know how to be entertaining, and entertaining they were – I would ask a question, and they’d run with it, giving great answers with humor and energy. I love them all. (Chris Hardwick, Jackie Kashian, Dave Anthony, Alison Rosen, and Katie Levine, by name. They were terrific. I was… adequate.) But the panels I’ve been sitting through in Las Vegas this week have been lacking in humor, lacking in animation, lacking in memorable moments.

It shouldn’t be that way. There’s no reason any talk needs to be dull. You’d think entertainment industry people would understand that. Deep down, I’m snoring like that guy who nearly fell asleep on me, and no amount of caffeine is going to prevent that.

18. April 2016 · Comments Off on NAB Show, Day Two: Back In The Back Of The Room · Categories: Convention

Conferences that last all day in one room are the worst experiences of my job. I recognize that my work does not entail a lot of physical exertion — physicians define “sedentary” by citing the kind of labor I perform, basically sitting in front of a computer writing nonsense all day — but the psychic toll can be pretty heavy. Being confined to some hotel ballroom all day while mind-numbingly boring panel discussions are conducted in your presence is a challenge I invite you to try one of these days. Take away Wi-Fi and power outlets so you have limited access to the outside world and see how you do.

I didn’t get through Sunday without a splitting headache. This was the RAIN Summit, a day-long conference on digital audio that precedes the NAB conventions and is alternately good, infuriating, and boring. This time, the boring overtook good and infuriating. I will spare you the details, which I wrote about at All Access; let it suffice to say that the day was long, uncomfortable, and sapped my spirit to an alarming extent.

I can’t allow too much spirit to be sapped when I’m in Las Vegas. A few days in Vegas are fun when I get to be here without work and with Fran. This trip, like most of my Vegas jaunts, is with work and without Fran, meaning it’s wall-to-wall work, punctuated by exhausting dashes from venue to venue and across the vast Las Vegas Convention Center, a circle of Hell unmentioned with the others. I’ve been here for one full day and I’ve had enough.

But maybe this time will be better. The schedule for the NAB Show is especially light on radio topics; I’ll have more time to check out the exhibits, at least, which isn’t really what I want to do — this is not CES — but beats the meeting rooms, of which there will be plenty enough.

You’ll read all about that at All Access. The stuff I can’t put there, I’ll put here. We’ll see how that goes soon enough.

16. April 2016 · Comments Off on NAB Show, Day One: Gonna Set My Soul On Fire · Categories: Convention, Radio

The flight from LAX was uneventful, being only about 45 minutes, give or take. I was, as I always seem to be, on my way to yet another convention, prepared to sit in the back of the room through endless panels, writing dry descriptions and verbatim quotes for the web and complaints and jokes for the social media audience. It is, as much as I don’t want to think about it, what I do for a living. There are worse fates.

But the flight was filled with people heading to Las Vegas for purposes other than business. There were bros wearing sunglasses on the dimly-lit aircraft (it was a Virgin America flight, which by definition means dim lighting and ambient chill music and various shades of pink and red and purple. I will miss that when Alaska Airlines takes over and bleaches it all out), families with screaming children, tourists speaking several different languages, and a couple eating foul-smelling sandwiches across the aisle from me. It was more bus than aircraft. But it was a short bus ride.

On the shuttle to the rental car center, a family from Illinois near St. Louis but originally from Chicago was clustered by the driver. I knew where they were from because a) the father, propping their baby up on his shoulder, proclaimed as such, loudly, to the driver, and b) dad was wearing a Jimmy Butler jersey, unfortunate since dad also sported a beer belly and the jersey, worn sans undershirt, didn’t stand a chance. Butler’s 21 looked more like 2 1, with a pasty expanse of skin peeking out from the bottom. The driver and dad were discussing football, and by that I mean that football teams and terms came up, but this was not by any means an informed discussion. Someone said that Brock Osweiler had signed with Tennessee, and that Tennessee was going to be tough with him and that guy from Philly, by which I assume they meant DeMarco Murray, and by which I also assume that they didn’t see Murray play last season. Osweiler, having been misplaced, also somehow became misidentified, compared to Wes Welker, which in retrospect wasn’t totally off since both are white and played for Denver. It was like bizarro world sports radio. I’ve heard worse.

For a Saturday night, Vegas seems fairly empty. McCarran was quiet, the car rental was quick, traffic from there to the Venetian was practically nonexistent, and the casino buzz was mostly from pockets of revelers here for bachelor and bachelorette parties, young people in modified formal wear and brightly colored hair — pink and purple were popular — while the guests of honor all seemed to be wearing “Bachelor” and “Bachelorette” sashes. That’s a thing now, I guess. Maximum embarrassment is the goal, and sashes are step one. But there were fewer people than I’m used to seeing here in front of whom to be embarrassed — walking around in wacky attire and a sash is less mortifying if there’s no audience, and there weren’t that many people hovering, though when I checked in (practically no line — the clerk apologized for making me wait, and I informed her that I was waiting for all of perhaps two minutes), I was told that two of the hotel’s tall towers were sold out and only the wing I was in had any vacancies. Someone’s here, I just didn’t see them.

But I imagine that by the time the NAB Show, the convention for which I’m here, gets underway in full on Monday, there’ll be the usual convention mobs. The NAB Show isn’t on the level of CES, but it’s big, and it’s survived by pivoting from being primarily a broadcast TV convention with some radio involved to going all-in on online video, movie making, and other new media things that aren’t necessarily about broadcasting, which is relegated to management and engineering tracks and a couple of luncheons. And it’s worked; the new media stuff has created buzz where there’d been none just a few years ago.

Needless to say, I won’t get to be where the buzz is. I’ll be covering the radio-related stuff. And radio-related stuff tends to involve the desperate quest to get FM chips and the NextRadio app onto every cell phone, plus the obligatory and desolate HD Radio booth and a series of panels of increasing mind-numbing boredom. But there’s also the RAIN Summit, which takes place on Sunday and is all about digital audio like podcasting and streaming, although it’s also a day for me to sit in the back and think, hey, I’m more of an expert on this stuff than these guys are. But I always think that. And there ARE conventions where I get to prove that, like at the panel the other day at the Worldwide Radio Summit and one at the upcoming Conclave. This isn’t those, unfortunately.

So, I’m here. On a Saturday night. Alone. In my hotel room. No time for fun; I have to be up early tomorrow. I have conventioneering to do….

10. January 2014 · Comments Off on WHAT I DID TODAY · Categories: Convention, Travel

I drove today. Woke up in Henderson, Nevada, just outside Las Vegas, and had lunch at home, just outside L.A. And then I worked and now I’m finishing work. That’s about it.

The drive, though — I’ve made the drive to and from Las Vegas too many times to count by now. That’s what having to go to conventions will do to you. I don’t hate the drive, but it gets… tedious. There isn’t much between St. Rose Parkway in Henderson and, I’d say, Fontana, unless the Mad Greek in Baker or a cluster of chain stores in Victorville is your speed. But if you time your bathroom needs correctly — that is, if you don’t need a pit stop between Primm and Baker, or Baker and Barstow — it’s not too difficult.

But if you’ve never had the pleasure, enjoy these time lapse Vegas-to-L.A. videos from other people:

For the record, I did not stop for a bathroom break in Baker. I made it to Barstow this time.

07. January 2014 · Comments Off on WAITING FOR SONY · Categories: Convention, Meta

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I’m sitting in the Las Vegas Convention Center waiting for Sony to tell me all about stuff that we’ll forget about in days if not hours. This is what I do for a living, at least in part. I sit in convention halls and ballrooms, listen to people carefully parse their words to avoid mishap, and write down what they say, shove it into news-type form, and publish it. Later, I make fun of it, separately, in tweets and posts elsewhere and here. That’s how it works.

There are worse ways to make a living, I suppose. But the tedium can get to me sometimes. And the running around – it’s a given that if I’m at one end of the convention center, or one end of town, I’ll have to be at the other end, usually in a matter of minutes. This is why I dress light, even in chilly conditions outside like today: anything heavy and I’ll be drenched in sweat. I also can’t be in two places at once, which is why, when Michael Bay was melting down and stalking off stage at the Samsung press conference, I was on the other side of town in a sparsely-attended panel that was more apropos for coverage by my employer. I miss out on all the fun stuff.

But, again, there are worse things. This is luxury annoyance. In the meantime, I have to stop writing this, because I have platitudes to write up. And maybe there’ll be a celebrity embarrassing himself or herself at this one, too. One can only hope.

04. January 2014 · Comments Off on ANTICIPATORY CONVENTION DREAD · Categories: All Access, Convention, Nerdist, Work

T-minus 2 days until I have to do CES – excuse me, International CES – in Las Vegas, and I’m as unprepared as ever. Haven’t packed, did just a rudimentary brush through the agenda, just not together yet. It’s always like this.

Maybe this year it’s because there’s no real excitement about what’s in store at the show this year. After 3D kinda flopped and last year was all about cars and 4K, the prospect of this year being exactly like last year- nothing notable, mostly evolutionary (barely)- has me not exactly relishing the drive up there.

Or maybe it’s that it’s Friday and I’m just worn out. Let’s just say that’s it. Who knows? Maybe something at CES will knock everybody’s socks off. It could happen. Right now, that drive is not what I want to think about. And, two days early, it’s all I can think about. That and the Eagles game. If they win, that drive won’t be quite as tough. I might just float all the way up the 15 freeway.