What Future for PBS?

pubbroadcst.jpg

can we put the contact info on the screen as well?

In 2000, when I cut the deal with the BBC to spend five years converting their stations to the VJ model, I was asked to address the Board of Governors, the body that runs the BBC.

I gave them the standard ‘burn it to the ground’ rap, and the ‘democratization of video’ talk.

They listened attentatively.

When I was done, I asked if there were any questions.

Gavyn Davies, the Chairman of the Board of Governors raised his hand:

“If I understand what you are saying, in a decade The BBC will no longer produce television content.”

I nodded.

Gavyn Davies was no dope. He was not only the Chairman of the Board of The BBC, he was also the Chairman of Goldman Sachs UK.

“I think you will go from being producers to publishers”.

Today, I gave the keynote speech to the meeting of the Executive Board of PBS affiliated stations across the country. Around 200 General Managers and their lead staffers from PBS stations came together in NY at the Grand Hyatt Hotel. As I told them what I thought, we’ll see what happens.

I think PBS has enormous potential to become an engine of change in the new world of democratized video. Perhaps it is better positioned than anyone else to effect this change – this need for publishing instead of producing.

Youtube has shown us that the technology and more importantly the desire to create content has already found a home in the general population. But Youtube is a mess. It is already a synonym for raggedy video. “It looks like Youtube” is no compliment when it comes to production values.

Just as when writing percolated out to the masses following Gutenberg, someone has to organize the event – to help nurture burgeoning writers, to teach people how to do this, to craft and shape their work and ultimately to publish it….

This is what PBS could do, on a very local level.

Become a node for video literacy. A place where people could come for training, have their work reviewed, edited and if good enough, published. A true voice for the community and a place where the community could learn to speak and resonate.

Its a noble goal, and one that commercial broadcasters will not pick up.

iWitness, or iReport, CNN’s effort to reach out to ‘average people’ with cameras and edits invites them to shoot their trailer if and when the tornado hits. Accidental video. A subsititute for the news crew.

Public Broadcasting could do much more.

It could take the lead in the move to video literacy.

Personally, I think it would be the best thing since Sesame Street.

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18 responses to “What Future for PBS?

  1. Public broadcasting is the one example of excellence in programming done with quality being the primary driver. No intelligence insulting commercials, no pablum for the masses – PBS is a thinking persons station – unlike most of the other cable channels one can choose from.

    I hope those PBS GM’s listen to the wake up call and see this as the opportunity to surpass the crap that passes for television from the big three networks and the local affiliates that try to pass their programming as something worthwhile to watch – the latter of which could be described as youtube quality programming.

  2. I don’t get it. Maybe I am missing something.
    PBS produces quality.
    Millions of illiterate video producers producing crap.

    Isn’t quality better? Isn’t quality a noble goal? Isn’t quality worth fostering? Isn’t quality worth watching? Isn’t quality worth promoting? Isn’t quality something PBS should support and produce?

    Why should anyone stop producing quality? Why should any current media outlet give up the reins of producing quality?

    I must be missing something here.

  3. Perhaps I do get it.
    Mr. Rosenblum would like to sign a contract with PBS to train video journalists. Then, of course, PBS would air the best examples. Perhaps quality would come from this effort. Perhaps the public would be well served?

    What is the true motivation?

  4. I shouldn’t be presumptive. I certainly have no idea about your business, and shouldn’t imply motives.

    My fundamental thoughts are….
    There are many outstanding producers of video content and video journalists. Why would any established, reputable media outlet want to start from scratch? Unless it was to save money, and pay much less for content?

    Don’t get me wrong. There is a new breed of video producers. Probably a thousand born each minute. Yes, there needs to be training and literacy (shooting, editing, content producing) Yes, the internet provides a new open ended platform for anyone to publish. I am all in favor of quality video, and with an open ended video universe, quality can be produced by anyone (just the same as crap can.)

    But for the time being, why would the big networks like PBS want to delve into content being produced by in experienced producers? Just as the major league baseball teams are not going to put inexperienced ball players on their field.

    Talent, experience and quality is distinguishable from no talent, inexperience and low quality? I think PBS ought to continue to find, produce, support, and foster the best…whether it is high production, or video journalists.

  5. I should not be presumptive. I have no knowledge of any of your business, nor should I imply this is a business motive.

    My only point is this: For decades many have been producing high quality video content. PBS often airs quality.

    Now, with the revolution taking place, many millions have access to video production and publishing. Certainly, quality will be produced.

    But why would PBS want, at this time, to move towards inexperience producers, lower quality craft and untalented producers? Why wouldn’t PBS and any major media outlet want the highest quality content, craft, creativity and commitment?

    I agree that with thousands of VJs being born every minute now… the future is wide open. Yes, quality content, craft, creativity and commitment will need to rise to the top…and yes, PBS could feasibly put a program on the air featuring those stories.

    But I don’t get why they would stop producing, supporting or financing quality product.

    Unless they are trying to save money.

  6. hi Eric
    I think you have a valid point, but I also think we should deal with the realities of PBS. In case you did not notice, the Bush Administration just tried once again to cut about 500 million in funding for PBS.

    PBS alas is not the BBC, which has a guaranteed annual income of $5.2 billion a year. Imagine what kind of quality you could produce with that.

    So the question become instead, what is the best role for PBS in a country where all the rest of TV is commercial and we pretty much refuse to fund it.

    PBS must contend itself with beggaring really, to corporations and communities. This is distasteful and a disgrace to our country, but that is the way it is at the moment.

    With their limited resources, and with the democratization of video exploding – and no major network really paying all that much attention, I think that the notion of publisher of quality (from ‘us out here with the cameras’) is a unique niche that PBS could quickly occupy.

    No one else is doing it.

    CNN is waiting for ‘accidental video’ and there is youtube junk all over the place. But I think the idea of finding and nurturing new and young talent (not to the exclusion of all else, but certainly as a major part) is an interesting and valuable mission for public broadcasting in this country – at least until we see fit to really fund it properly.

  7. Several thoughts from an interested party.

    Referring back to your 2000 presentation to the BBC brass, it is interesting to note that in a series of comments from ‘experts’ that was posted by the BBC in late 2006, everyone agreed that the viewing public would still be seeking a high quality ‘big’ screen ‘social’ experience ten years from now. The consensus was that the demise of television was not at hand.

    Regarding video journalists, it is both exciting and alarming to consider the possibilities. A critical eye to encourage visual quality must be accompanied by critical thinking to encourage journalistic integrity. How else does PBS maintain its standards and its hard won reputation for the best content available.

    The web is a lot like the Wild West: Buyers beware. Sellers guard reputation.

  8. Michael Britt

    There are, and have been all sorts of opportunities for PBS. New technology such as inexpensive cameras, editing systems and new distribution models such as the internet certainly broaden the possibilities. Anyone with a camera, editing system and internet connection are now content providers.
    Yet, go back and look at CNN’s early days as a 24 hour news operation… it was a question of quantity vs quality… put a lot of crews out there, get the coverage, put it on TV (we’ve got 24 hours to fill)… and hopefully, the viewers will come. Well, they did, and with it a demand that news be more than visual coverage… people like stories, good, well-told stories… and that’s what distinguishes quality versus quantity. By and large, people won’t watch crap… at least not for long.

    My other point is what kind of business model expects to use free (or cheap) labor and creativity and hope to succeed? The VJ model doesn’t work for everything… and every story doesn’t work with the kind of coverage that an inexperienced VJ brings. Let’s face it, not everyone can tell a good story, no matter what tools or training you give them. And how long will someone, who after they get good at reporting, continue to supply you with material once they realize that there is value of their services?

    The best storytellers have skill, talent, experience… and often a gift that you just can’t buy off the shelf.

  9. Joanne, you raise some very important points.

    How does PBS protect the reputation it has earned with the concept of the Solo VJ paradigm?

    Unconventional training is a crucial element here. IMO, it doesn’t require a four year degree to become a quality shooter. Real world hands on experience I feel is a better teacher than academia. Boot camps, mentoring, networking with others – they provide a level of instruction that is more realistic IMO.

    PBS has worked hard to earn the high level of respect for the types of programming it broadcasts – Not everyone is cut out to shoot this level of product – but there are those who have the ability – they only seek to get a break. The challenge I see is that there is a sense of the old school even dictating policy within the ranks of public television. I could be wrong but you look at those who are currently employed with PBS affiliates as shooters, producers, etc and they come from the traditional way of shooting – that doesn’t leave any openings for upstarts. As such, PBS might be contributing to the problem instead of being a part of the solution.

  10. PBS do not produce much so many programs. They buy a lot of it from the UK and from independent producers. Why would they care if it was shot by 1 man or 20? Unless it is a lot cheaper. But here also to shop for quality is to ignore price in some degree. The BBC do not use one man VJ to make drama or even for national news. They use it to save money in regional areas which are very low priority for them. In some cases of the artist or the true investigative hound the one-man show will shine but most of the attraction is because it is cheaper.

  11. Hi, Cliff. I love the idea of giving new talent a chance. I am personally amazed by some of the talent I see on the British spin-offs like AMERICAN IDOL and SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE. Yes, some participants are professionally trained, but many are not, and even if they don’t make it all the way, the talent is evident. This has to be true across all areas of life, and people getting a chance to bring their game is really inspiring.

    Should PBS offer a similar opportunity to would-be producers or video journalists? Why not, as long as it’s juried in a manner appropriate to the genre (the ‘critical eye’) and again where appropriate, the information is presented accurately, and in a fair and balanced manner (the ‘critical thinking’ that ensures journalistic integrity.)

    The real question is whether the resources are available to vet the offerings and help the cream rise to the top. Does that happen at the national level? The local level? What’s the funding mechanism? Is it just for the web, or are we really looking for the next generation of talent to produce content for the ‘big screen’ (that 60″ in the den???) What percent of the budget should be devoted to these ‘adventures’?

    And the really big question…what about rights.

  12. Excellent points Joanne – This is the kind of productive dialog that should be occurring at all levels of PBS as well as here. Standards need to be maintained, I have no disagreement with that, but there are issues that I have witnessed and discussed where what I term “Old School Detractor” shooters come in and flex their experience as to make themselves better than those who would like an opportunity to do what they do. And they behave very unprofessional like – which is a sad state of example for the profession.

    So how does PBS maintain the high level of quality and utilize the Solo VJ paradigm??? That question has yet to be answered thoroughly, but given the many professional still shooters who are making the transition to video, myself included, the seeing eye is already there. It just needs some guidance in the aspects of shooting and editing.

    Give Solo VJ’s the opportunity to shoot at the local affiliate level – let them prove themselves to move up the project food chain so to speak – maybe that is one way to implement the transition into the SoloVJ paradigm. It isn’t for every project, but I believe it could be utlized where appropriate and be high quality in the process.

  13. Cliff wrote:

    “Unconventional training is a crucial element here. IMO, it doesn’t require a four year degree to become a quality shooter. Real world hands on experience I feel is a better teacher than academia. Boot camps, mentoring, networking with others – they provide a level of instruction that is more realistic IMO”.

    Relax Cliff, unless you are applying for a full time job with a production company or a news organization you do not need a college degree. I know of many good DPs that never went to college. They learn by doing internships, working alongside experienced professionals and taking classes wherever they could find one. That’s sweat equity; they invested time in their own career. The main difference here is that they learned how to satisfy the demand and not force their own methods on others, like VJs do. You might think that what you do (VJ) is good and spend days and nights here cheerleading yourselves, but the only way you’ll be able to tell if your work is good will be when people will actually call you and hire you for your services or buy your work, until then all you have is talk, and that’s easy and cheap to do. One of my scriptwriting teachers had painted on the wall of his classroom in big letters: “Show it, don’t say it”.

    To get accepted in television broadcasting you need is to satisfy the decision maker with the quality of your work. It all starts with a demo reel but that will only get your foot into the door, from that point on you have to show what you can do.

    Soon or later, and for your very own benefit, you will have to start realizing that this whole VJ thing it has been a total failure with absolutely no future plans in sight. Every one of the predictions that Michael made in the last five years failed big time. He started by predicting that every cable channel will be having programs created by VJs, so far the only one is his own on the Travel Channel, and that’s on the graveyard shift. All that he ahs created for the Travel Channel is that they are giving amateurs the thrill of being on the air, and this is okay if that’s what you are looking in this profession, but not if you want to make a career.

    He predicted that most news will be done by VJs, and in five years out of thousand of stations only a few have embraced his system while most others are investing heavily in high end gears. Since I started EFPlighting.com only six months ago I’ve been contacted by over 50 stations across the country that wants to hire me to teach their staff how to achieve good lighting, that’s why I will start my seminars next year, some of these are big names not only affiliates. These are smart business people that know that the way to success has not changed, and that’s thru quality work.

    Now in the latest effort Michael is trying to find an outlet for all his VJs work with these CJ sites, another way for him to make money and for the VJs to give away their work for nothing just to get some exposure.

    Trust me Cliff, there’s only one way to get ahead in this business is with quality work, not what you consider quality but what the decision makers view as quality.

  14. Nino, you seem pretty fixated on my site. If this is such a failure you have nothing to worry about. Just let nature take its course. That, however, does not seem to be the case. I am afraid that you are on the wrong side of history and technology. Hope your seminars go well. Let me know when the first one is and I will be there. Happy to pay my own way to see it.

  15. ” rosenblumtv // Jun 23rd 2007 at 2:19 pm

    Come back any time Nino. Your constructive criticisms and professional insights always welcome”.

    I thought you meant that, I guess that was like one of those “how are you?” greeting, when you don’t really give a damn how they really are.

    “I am afraid that you are on the wrong side of history and technology.”

    Michael, the “technology” that you and your VJ consider state of the arts I own it as spare and is somewhere in my van, 99% of the technology that I use everyday to make a living you wouldn’t even know how to turn it on.

    Just for curiosity, where di you learn how to patronize people, you are very good.

  16. Great read article about Why Video Formats Really Don’t Matter as much as we think they should over at studiodaily.com

  17. Cliff, read this posting that I had on B-roll two weeks ago.

    “Last week I had a 3 days commercial shoot for a large British company. This was my very first shoot exclusively for the web and on the contrary of what the common believe is that small cameras and cheap production are okay for the web, this producer proved to me the contrary.
    This guy was really sharp with many international shows to his credit and he was getting paid very well to produce these web programs. This was a two cameras Digibeta shoot and he insisted that the cameras be equipped with HD lenses. This was a full scale production that also included a 12×16 green screen and no short cuts.

    Being a British company and in view of the alleged successes of the VJ system in England I had to ask. Why weren’t they using small cameras and existing light as it has become typical of web videos? Apparently they also tried that route too, as they tried everything else and it did not work, or at least not to the level that is could be considered acceptable professional work. He showed me samples of all the different systems and formats that they’ve been experimenting with, and after seeing direct comparisons I can safely say that large formats and good lighting is even more critical for web productions that it is for broadcasting. Even the HD lenses on SD cameras made a visual difference. The next step will be for these shoots to be done entirely on HD, probably 1080.

    He also added that the company had over 60 executives flying in from all over the world for this four days meeting in one of Disney World’s resorts and the result of these meetings will be part of a training program on the web that will be viewed by thousands of employees worldwide, it would be foolish trying to take any shortcuts on the production of these programs and trust the results to crews with limited skills and substandard gears.”

    And this was a follow up e-mail that I received from the producer in London

    “The client had a great time with you guys – really positive feedback and I appreciate your professionalism and hard work. They were thrilled”.

    You might wonder of why I don’t have any advertisers yet on EFPlighting.com, even thou I’m actively seeking sponsors, because I tell them to go away. Most of them want me to modify my tutorials to favor their product regardless if their products are better or not. They might well be but my integrity far surpass the lure of money.

    Trade magazines have become whores for advertisers; I stopped reading those long time ago because they were offending my intelligence and my professionalism. The same Studio article was also on their print version and it has generated a lot of writing for being totally inaccurate. If Studio magazine had any integrity they would had actual samples of images to prove their point but that would cost money and require intelligence, talk (or writing) is cheap, but most important it would had killed that article.

    Early last year one of my main hospitality clients asked me if there was any way that we can reduce the travel cost on equipment on upcoming 19 destination resorts video that we had planned with 13 trips outside the US. I suggested using a smaller camera and I tested the Sony Z1 for 3 days side by side with the BetacamSP. Even thou the Betacam is an older analog format the quality was far superior than the small HDV in every technical aspect, and I used waveforms and vectorscope monitors in addition to visual comparisons. Also don’t forget that once an analog signal in digitized uncompressed on an NLE it becomes a digital signal. Keep in mind that I own all these cameras and for me don’t make any difference what I use. The only time that I favor the small camera is when weight and size makes the difference.

    In conclusion anyone who is saying that there are no differences never made a comparison test.

  18. After taking a second look at Cliff’s Studio Daily link let me add something to back-up my statement that:

    “Trade magazines have become whores for advertisers”

    The 3 main advertisers on that Studio Daily link article are manufacturers of HDV mini cameras.

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