Monday memo: robots take over
By Holland Cooke
LAS VEGAS – Like so many large conferences that only Las Vegas can host, this month’s NAB convention has been canceled. But I went there anyway. The trip turned into a mini vacation, as my wife had taken a few days off to join me here after the convention, and we had show tickets.
And what I’m witnessing here is a deep insight into this New Normal that we wonder about.
Humans are displaced
Nowhere in America has been hit harder by the shutdown than ‘Vegas, a story Heidi Harris and John Schaffer of local radio helped me relate on my TV show. Sin City’s last hurray before the pandemic was the January 2020 Consumer Electronics Show we covered, before The Strip darkened.
Back to the future: I was curious to see what I would find here almost two years later. Las Vegas WOULD SOLVE this… one way or another. But how?
Appalled at how radio continues to cut back, I’m in awe of how – JUST when revenues have dropped sharply – Las Vegas has invested so heavily in equipment.
- The pre-pandemic trips began with a different, often tiring hotel check-in experience. Long queues meandered through the lobby. Up to 15 minutes later, a gracious office worker in a smart uniform greeted you warmly and quickly went through a personal / on-time process. Now they’re gone, and a row of kiosks get your keys and directions to the room in a fraction of the time. No touching.
- Dinner at the Palm was a staple of the convention. When the NAB attracted so many of my customers to one place, I would bring them together for thick drinks and stiff steaks, spending enough that The Palm loyalty program bought me a free lobster every year on my birthday. Apparently it caught up with them. The Palm restaurant is still there, but the business collapsed and sold to the restaurant conglomerate Landry’s. Those career Palm servers – real characters – are gone; and the young waitress from last night, two months on the job, said she was on Medicaid. “We are not unionized, no benefits.”
- The area of the casino is completely empty. Table games are scarce, replaced by huge curved screen video slots. When you find a live match, it’s a higher minimum than before the pandemic; although fake blackjack and fake roulette and fake craps games are less accessible. Felt table tops are replaced with video screens resembling a felt table top. Rather than sitting around a traditional roulette wheel, players sit down – independent of the dealer and each other – placing bets on individual screens, while a virtual wheel spins. Zzz …
- Even the leadership ranks are thinner. With fewer croupiers and table players to watch out for, fewer nosy bosses are hovering. Fewer waitresses still bring free drinks, less often.
- Harrah’s big show is the late Whitney Houston’s HOLOGRAM concert.
It’s not just a Las Vegas story
Because SO MUCH money is flowing in this place, life here is the epitome – the steroid version – of the life we live in, back in the real world. Every day, in dozens of ways, our listeners and advertisers are adapting.
As happy as I was to see “Vegas bounce back”, I found it less fun. No more relax at the end of a long convention day, sharing drinks around a blackjack table with happy strangers for an hour, arguing when someone hits 21. We were chatted by the dealer whose repartee reminds me now the local automated DJs unemployed.
Even before your arrival, there is buzzkill. Flight attendants politely harass masks, passenger resistance fueled by the blatant media narrative. And coming from radio, it struck a chord: in my youth, I was a DJ, a human being who made a living playing recorded music. Today, most of the FM broadcast hours are automated. And in the photo to the right is the package of one of my in-flight snacks …
Holland Cooke is the author of the famous e-book “Multiply Your Podcast Subscribers, Without Buying Clicks,” which he shamelessly describes as “required reading for serious podcasters,” available exclusively from Chat books (click on the banner on this page). He is a consultant working at the intersection of broadcasting and the Internet. And the HC hosts “The big picture”TV show Friday evenings at 7ET on RT America. Follow him on Twitter @HollandCooke