September 8, 2020 - David Ross, Words from the Boss

Normal Isn’t Normal, But Can It Be Better…?

This article first appeared in the September 2020 issue of TM Broadcast International.

Ross has a reputation in the industry for being a people-oriented business. I’m always a little baffled when people draw distinctions between companies and their workforce, because any company is simply a group of people drawn together by a common purpose. All companies are the sum of their employees, and I’ve consistently said that the secret to business success is ‘hire great people and don’t piss them off’! My father feels the same way, and when he founded Ross Video he (and his team) created our famous Code of Ethics – a set of guiding principles that inform how we approach our work and run our business. It’s available on our web site, it’s on the walls of all of our offices and you’ll even see it printed on our trade show booths. A quick glance at its nine clauses reaffirms that we put people first.

That being the case, our decision back in March to withdraw from the proposed NAB Show in Las Vegas was natural, although certainly not easy. At the time, the organizers were still intent on running the event, and I simply could not see the sense in exposing our employees, partners and customers to the risks associated with 100,000 people in a convention hall, regardless of whether they would even turn up or not. Everyone at Ross loves attending trade shows – it’s always great to get face time with our customers, talk to them about our latest solutions and discuss how we can solve their problems – but people’s wellbeing and security have to come first, and we withdrew from NAB Show with sadness but also safe in the knowledge that it was the correct thing to do. Of course, the event was then cancelled a few short days later and we’ve since seen the remainder of 2020 industry events tumble like dominos as the pandemic has gripped and seems stubbornly unwilling to let us get back to the way things were before. At the time of writing, the CABSAT event in the Middle East scheduled for October looks unlikely to take place and there are also doubts about the SATIS show in Paris in November. CES – the world’s largest exhibition in Las Vegas in January 2021 – has already confirmed that the show will not take place and will be entirely virtual.

So where does this leave companies like Ross who are continuing to innovate and want to share the fruits of that labor with the wider world? Back in March we (just like many other companies) decided to move our NAB Show efforts online, with a comprehensive ten-week series of webinars and presentations designed to share our latest product launches and news with the live production community. With national lockdowns now being replaced with ad hoc regional and local restrictions and social distancing measures still in force, the trend of working from home isn’t likely to change any time soon, and so we’ve made the decision to follow a similar path for the autumn of this year with a second series of online presentations and webinars. This is admittedly a gamble for us insofar as the world may now be suffering from ‘webinar fatigue’, but IBC recently unveiled their virtual ‘Showcase’ event for September 2020, and it seems fair to suggest that the virtual element of tradeshows will be part of our landscape long after 2020.

I was recently asked about the future of tradeshows and I made the prediction that events will now have to adopt a hybrid approach, comprising both physical and virtual elements. This makes a lot of sense. We have an impressive (and growing!) number of visitors to our booth every year at both NAB Show and IBC, but a great many people are not able to participate in these events and we still want to be able to communicate with them. There’s also an argument that some tradeshows have become a little bloated and don’t actually deliver impressive return on investment from the standpoint of new customer acquisition, so the increasing emphasis on the virtual side of shows will hopefully coincide with a renewed focus on the fitness for purpose of the physical offering – IBC’ s announcement that the 2021 show will be four days instead of five was warmly welcomed at Ross (we believe it should have happened years ago!) and we like the idea of leaner and more tightly focused events. Another important point is that the pandemic has dramatically affected everyone’s international travel habits. With many world leaders calling for the post-pandemic normal to be greener and kinder to the environment, there is a possibility that the large flagship international exhibitions and shows will diminish in importance as people decide to travel less and support their own regional or national events instead. This could provide a much-needed shot in the arm to events like CABSAT in Dubai and Moscow’s NATEXPO, and also help boost the profile of London’s Media Production & Technology Show, SATIS in Paris, Spain’s alternating BIT and BITAM events and South Africa’s biennial MediaTech expo. While some readers (exhibitors?) might groan at the prospect of an increase in the number of shows on the calendar, there might be something to be said for NAB Show and IBC being a little smaller in size and footprint – they’re expensive and complex events, and it might be healthier if manufacturers spread their product launch cycles out a little more evenly across the year rather than having so much activity oriented around the ‘big two’.

My lack of crystal ball obviously hampers my ability to make any predictions for 2021 and beyond. I would love to be bullish and optimistic, suggesting we’ll all be sitting around in Vegas next April pondering what a freakish anomaly 2020 was, but I fear we’re in this for the longer haul. IBC’s organizers are already talking about a reduced footfall in 2021 and I’m sure similar conversations will be taking place around NAB’s (socially distanced) boardroom table. Social distancing and mask-wearing are likely to remain with us well into next year and that obviously has to impact how tradeshows are organized and attended – all the more reason why the virtual side of these shows will continue to grow in size and importance. The pandemic is also impacting the kind of solutions that Ross and our contemporaries are developing. If the last six months have shown us anything, it’s that world events can be catalysts that drive change. Remote production was already a trend in live production, but social distancing and working from home have turbocharged this as content creators have sought to keep working and remain productive without having all of the studio gallery tools in hand. Earlier this year Ross launched a cloudbased production portal that works with any internet browser, and the timing was serendipitous to say the least. Similarly, interest in virtual studio solutions has increased as the live production industry seeks to bring people together onscreen but keep them apart physically. In the studio, camera robotics solutions and production automation have both seen a big spike in interest as broadcasters seek to manage their productions with a smaller crew and keep the number of employees present to a safe minimum level. My instincts tell me that these kinds of solutions will continue to grow in popularity and prevalence. Cloud-based solutions, virtualization and IP are now firmly top of the agenda when we speak with customers, and it’s fair to suggest that the industry will see a slew of new products being launched over the next twelve months to cater for the strange new world that we are living in. Will the new normal be better than the old normal? Will it be more efficient but less sociable, or will we manage to find a balance that meets both needs? Only time will tell…

I would normally sign off any article about future trends by saying ‘we look forward to seeing you on our booth at a tradeshow soon’ but that is obviously not possible in the current situation. I’ll therefore end simply by wishing you, your families and colleagues a safe and healthy final quarter of 2020. Business has been tough for a great many companies in this industry and profits will reflect that. Ross may be fortunate to be bucking the trend, but we should all continue to focus on what’s important and put people first.

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