NAB 2013 Begins and the press event of Harris Broadcast shocked me

For me the National Association of Broadcasters convention has been an almost yearly tradition since 1987. The Las Vegas based (since 1991) event has up to 120k media professional converging here. It’s a good place to meet people you haven’t seen in a while, sometimes I see people here only once a year, despite the fact that live in my town! However, since the Internet we are not learning much here so it’s more a socializing event now.

My flight arrived late on Saturday night (in fact more like early Sunday) and I spent my Sunday focusing as usual on press event. First was the Sony one. That event is always quite big and pompous… they seem to try to hold on to their former glory desperately. This year their theme was “Beyond Definition” meaning that you can work with their stuff for any resolution and with any codec. And yet, they went on to talk about 4K workflows exclusively for the next 45 minutes! Yeah, resolution doesn’t matter… sure. Sometimes it is not clear what people are thinking. Towards the end of the event they wanted to “show” that they are forward looking so they brought a bunch of gears (camera, lenses, boxes…) and a person from R&D. He spoke briefly saying how great are the upcoming technologies but without mentioning any specific and not even what was on the table. It was completely pointless!

Next up was Avid. A much smaller and nicer event. It was actually interesting to see and hear their thinking and new product introduction. A lot of focus on solution. It’s really where they make the bulk of their money not on editors. This is perhaps why they lower the price of Media Composer (with the introduction of version 7) to $999. Appeal to the higher end of the editing market but not too low. It’s still a difficult market for them and they seem to have an ever changing management for that reason. I really hope that they will be successful enough to still innovate because the pro video world don’t have much serious alternatives yet.

But the more puzzling event of all for me was my third and last one on Sunday: Harris Broadcast. It’s their first NAB as a now private company, separated from Harris Corp officially now since February. They have been acquired by “The Gores Group” (a private investment firm) for a mere $225 millions (with only $160 million in cash). Do I need to specify that it is quite low for firm that has their portfolio and name recognition? That tells you something on what is the investing world view of the manufacturers in the television/video space.

I like the format of the “Harris Broadcast” Press events, they always find fun unusual venues and it’s more dynamic than most press event. This one was held at the “Bourbon Room” in the Venetian hotel. A cool bar where the CEO address the press from a kind of balcony. For me, the content was the most surreal. They went on and on to stressed why this transaction was good and that they want to innovate more and have faster time to market. Frankly, that would be quite a shift in market position. Harris Broadcast has always been the company that bet on proven technology, but the great innovator? Will they be able to really change that much? How will they do that? Faster to market and more innovative… that takes money and taking into consideration that one of the reason for the acquisition was the low price, can we really count on “The Gores Group” to invest what it takes to do that? Faster to market means a shift in thinking, deep changes in the company culture and able resources (meaning often new resources). That is hard to accomplish and takes resources. If I compare this year press event to last year: Both were in cool places, both had open bars but last year event had great food while this one had a just a few little items. They had product demo and engineers there to talk to last year, but not this year. Obviously, the budget with the new owner was less. Is that an indication of their commitment to investing or do they just think that it’s a wiser investment? Time will tell but I am extremely skeptical, to the point that I actually though that it was just plain wishful thinking without substance. Probably the most surreal event that I saw in a long time.

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