Time for a change…
I am in London this week, meeting with a number of major newspaper groups who are moving to video online.
Once a newspaper goes online, and once online goes to video, it is only a matter of time until the newspaper begins to report in video. And if they are going to report in video, there is really only one cost-effective way to do it.
Fourteen years ago, this month, I was also in London.
I had come here to start Channel One.
Channel One was the first 24-hour local news channel for London, and it was based on the recently opened NY1. It was also based on the VJ model, but unlike NY1, it was not a success and it is no longer in business. The reasons why are important.
Channel One was started by Sir David English of Assocated Newspapers, a very smart guy. Well before anyone else, he saw the potential of both local news and cable. He wanted to start a 24-hour local news operation in London, which did not (and still does not) have one.
I was hired, on the heels of NY1, to set it up.
We found 42 young and aggressive journalists, got an office in the old Channel4 building and gave each of them Hi8 cameras. NY1 had also been done in Hi8.
The cameras were big by today’s standards for sure, and nowhere near the quality of HD or MiniDV, but at Hi8 they were about the equivalent of low band U-Matic, which had been a news broadcast standard for years. They were also light weight and small.
The new crop of VJs took to them immediately and were soon cruising all over London making some really great, innovative and original stories. We ran a 6 week test period and everyone was delighted with the results.
A new head of Channel One was announced. He came from ITN, the big commercial competitor to The BBC. He visited the station and was shocked by the Hi8 cameras.
“I will not have my people laughed at in the street’ he announced – although he understood the economics of the VJ model. He promptly replaced the Hi8 cameras with Betacams. Now every VJ had to carry a BVW200 betacam, but still work by themselves.
Soon, ‘standard’ tripods, batteries, cases, light kits and so on followed.
It was a disaster.
The quality of the work collapsed.
Exhausted from dragging around all the gear (they were given little luggage carts), the best they could do was put the cameras on their tripods, get a few exterior shots, a few soundbites and a stand up and truck it on home. An enormous new emphasis was placed on the standups.
The light, fast moving, funny and creative work was replaced with a leaden ‘local news’ look anyone would recognize.
It was unwatchable. A mess.
A few years later the whole operation was mercifully shut down.
It could have been avoided. It could have been avoided had management had the courage to ‘stay the course’. (Not to sound like someone else I would rather not be associated with).
Never the less, television news is a very very conservative and traditional business. It is highly risk averse. It moves incrementally.
Thus, it was no surprise, (but deeply saddening never the less) to read Michael Malone’s excellent analytical piece in Broadcasting and Cable this week on WKRN.
Conventional broadcasters, he postulates, are experiencing a clash between ‘new media’ and ‘old school’. And, many of them, it seems, are getting a bit scared and heading back to the ‘old school’.
It is a mistake.
They have to have the courage to push forward. There is and can be no going back if they want to survive.
Out here in London, newspapers are gearing up for the next round, which will be fought online.
Its a place where 8 crews and a stand up don’t mean a thing.