The NY Times with Katie Couric?

A little to the left….. a little to the right…. OK… wait….

Technologies have the ability to turn the world upside down without our even noticing.

Not too many years ago, TV signals came into your house through the air, and telephone signals came into your house through a wire.

Today, its pretty much the opposite. Almost all television signals now come into your house through a wire and most telephone calls arrive through the air.

A complete reversal.

The same ‘world turned upside-down’ phenomenon is now starting to take hold in the world of news.

Conventional TV news is in its death throes.  Katie Couric announces that she is leaving CBS Evening News after the November elections. Good move, Katie. Perhaps evocative of rats leaving a sinking ship ,but good move never the less,

TV news is on its way out.  The numbers (even allowing for Katie’s appalling ones) are universally downward, a trend that is likely to continue.  The total cumulative ratings for the three network evening news programs is now less than the total used to be for Cronkite, more than 20 years ago.  And the population of the county has increased by nearly 100 million since then.

What is happening?

Quite simply, no one is watching.

And why is no one watching?

Because the content sucks.

Not that news is not important. It is. But the way in which it is delivered has outlived its usefulness.

And not a surprise. The basic format of TV news (the guy at the desk and the ‘now this’ approach has not changed in 50 years)  If you have a minute, go over to the Museum of Broadcasting on East 53rd Street in Manhattan and take a look at the Camel Caravan of News.  Aside from the black and white, not a whole lot has changed.

If computer design progressed at the same pace as TV News design, I would be writing this on a Compaq the size of a sewing machine and my iPod hard drive would spin at 45rpm.

So TV News is dead.  But what will replace it?

This is where there is a really interesting window of opportunity for newspapers, if they have the courage to take it.


Newspapers have always been the bedrock upon which TV news was built.  Every TV news production meeting started and ended by combing the papers for stories. And why not?  Newspapers traditionally put many more reporters on the street than TV news crews.

As papers move to the web (for their own survival), and the web moves to video, newspapers will also migrate to video.  And here’s the window of opportunity.

Television is going to go non-linear, and new video platforms, such as phones, are going to exercise an enormous appetite for instant video content.  Non linear video content.

Consumers don’t care who provides the content so long as it is a) accurate and b) high quality and c)immediate.

Here is where newspapers can step in and take the video world away from TV news. They have the stories already, they have the reporting staff, they have the brand.  All they lack is the means of production. And in a world of HDV cameras that cost $800 and FCP software that costs that or less, the means or production is at their fingertips.

Ironically, Dirck Halstead, of Platypus fame, sent me an email yesterday detailing how CBS News is now going to demand that all content be shot in HD and will not accept HDV as it is too complex for them to transcode it.

Just another nail in the coffin of CBS TV news.

Do you think viewers (particularly those watching on cell phones) really care if the piece has been shot in HD or HDV?  Do you think they can tell?

CBS’s decision simply means that they have cut themselves off from about a million people around the world who could provide them with content and at the same time upped their own cost of production.

(Attention.  From now on, all passengers on the Titanic will be required to wear cement underwear).

If newspapers are smart (and we think some of them are pretty smart); and if they can remember their core business is the gathering and distribution of news – not the ink part; they stand a good chance of filling the vacuum that the departing network news operations are about to leave behind.


18 responses to “The NY Times with Katie Couric?

  1. The good news for newspapers is that they don’t have to worry about transcoding HDV to work with big investments in HD transmission gear and satellite uplinks. The web is the great technology democratizer (sorry – new word there). People expect video on the web to look just ok, and there are no video engineers justifying billions in HD broadcasting equipment purchases doing flash encoding for web videos.

    There is a window of opportunity here for newspapers — they have the newsgathering expertise, and the cost of entry for hi quality web video is very low. All they need is to figure out what will make people want to go to their web pages for the news, and they’ve got it made.

  2. Seeing as how even your low budget efforts on Verizon are failing, I have little faith in much else you claim to know.

    By the way, I think CBS sucks too so I guess we’ve found something to agree on!

  3. Verizon has done quite well and continues to do so. With cbs, I agree.

  4. When an earthquake hit the Big Island last year, I was working in NY. Power was out on most islands. I got on the phone to a couple of friends who went out and shot the damage with little point and shoot cameras that record 320×240 Quicktime movies.

    They transmitted their footage via FTP to me in NY. I edited the video and I forwarded it to ABC News – who for a day or so had the only footage. Why? Because the local affiliates could not figure out how to shoot Beta tapes and transmit without power.

    Yes, the 320×240 video images were not the best, but it showed the damage and beat out the other networks.

    All that network money and two guys with two point and shoot pocket cameras got the video out and on air.

  5. Hey man
    long time, no see
    we are off to Brooks on wed, but back in NY next week. Come by!

  6. Michael,

    How do you see this shift working for us smaller papers? I have 4 people who can shoot video now. We don’t shoot like broadcast TV, nor our are stories full of fluff. We don’t care about every rain event or car accident. That makes it hard to find things each day that I think our web viewers would like to watch. For now, we are just trying to be better storytellers.

    I too have the dream of taking on local TV news and beating them at their own game. But I feel frozen in place, lacking the newsroom personnel willing to reinvent themselves. They rather just write stories. The photo staff in consumed with filling the papers each day.

    Newspapers are shrinking staffs at the same time they’re making a push to the web. Our very survival as a industry will be predicated on how well we transition readers to becoming viewers of our websites. Making money on said website is for another discussion.

    Here are links to two stories shot this month for The Spokesman-Review website. Can we do it with this content or are we destined to dumb down our stories with on-camera talent to compete?

    By the way, both Dan Pelle and me are products of the Platypus Workshop.

  7. Hi Colin
    I screened both pieces and visually they are stunning. I have two immediate comments here, but more to follow on tomorrow’s blog – as you have given me a lot to work with.
    First, the video stories, while extremely well shot and edited, could use a lot of tightening in the storytelling side. The first one, (marathoners) needs narration. Story telling without narration is very hard – and time consuming, and a very very difficult way to tell a story with video. The characters are great, the story lovely, the shooting superb. I think this is certainly a strong component that can give local TV a run for their money, but it is only a part of what can/should be done.

    The second piece, on the horseback riding, is also lovely. The narration makes it easier to follow, but it too could be tightened up. What made it most compelling was to read the story by Pia Hallenberg Christensen – and then the video really came alive. I wonder if there is not a way to weave the two together. That is, to create a kind of online tapestry that is part text (where text tells the story best) and part video (where video tells the story best).

    In other words, as video migrates to the web, not to think of it as video or text, but rather as a kind of digital storytelling – video +text all mixed together?

    In any event, much to chew on here and more to come about this in tomorrow’s blog.

  8. …CBS News is now going to demand that all content be shot in HD and will not accept HDV as it is too complex for them to transcode it.

    What PHB came up with that requirement???

    Too complicated to transcode??? You have got to be kidding me. I knew Network news was bad, but this reeks of total incompetence. HDV can be transcoded with the click of a mouse button if need be. What needs to be transcoded??? Edit the native HDV footage and render out – how difficult is that??? SONY’s Vegas Pro 8 can render out to virtually any codec required from uncompressed YUV to compressed web formats. The other NLE’s support most major codecs as well.

    You’re right Michael – who cares if it was shot on HDV or HD – No one except those who would be looking for it would know the difference. And if the shooters are also the editors – again – why does it matter what format it was shot on???

    Edit the piece and deliver it – Duh!

  9. oh…it matters! And for those of you who say it doesnt matter, you have no idea what you’re talking about. HDV is a long GOP format. Long GOP is not so good for certain things but you wouldnt know anything about that since your shooting and editing is at such an elementary level. I won’t go into it here as I would have to school you on such basic technology that it really isnt worth my time. But seriously…..just because you have an $800 camera and a laptop doesnt mean you know anything about making television. There is more to it than just point, shoot, edit… least for anything more advanced than lame local news. get back to me when you learn a few things about I frames, compression, and…well……quality.

  10. I have no doubt that there are a million reasons why HDV is not broadcast quality; just as there are a million reasons why current TV stations cannot possibly use Final Cut Pro (and I have heard them for years – no kidding).

    For an industry that was once based on UMatic (and I will venture a guess that my $800 HDV camera produces a superior signal to my old 3/4 Umatic camera cable linked to a record deck), I think that HDV is probably quite broadcast quality.

    I have produced many series for Discovery, all of which were shot on a variety of cameras from Panasonic EZ1 (miniDV) to Sony Z1 to Panasonic P2 (HDV). You can stil see many of them on air today. No one ecomplains.

  11. The challenge I have with happycampers comment is it eludes once again to the elitism that pervades the closed network of broadcast shooters. Yeah – all you guys know what it means to make broadcast television – and the industry is laying you off in droves – what kind of job security does all your experience give these days?

    My research strongly suggests that maybe its time to break out of the GOB mentality and begin to produce for something other than broadcast – instead producing something that can be viewed online. Shoot lean and mean, become more agile and quit confining shooters to some rigid paradigm that restrains shooters from discovering new ways of producing content.

    TV viewership is increasingly dropping off with only the simplistic thinking sheeple left in Americana to watch the pablum of sitcoms and gossip programming that they feel is entertaining television. Michael has seen the future whether the detractors want to believe it or not. Online content distribution done by Solo VJ’s and Indie film makers is the wave of the future – and that future is now.

    Who needs a bloody Digibeta, Varicam or what have you to shoot a quality project? I know of at least two Solo VJ’s (Claudio Van Planta and Scott Kestersen) who shoot with SONY A1U’s and get their content broadcast internationally on a regular basis – and they edit their own work on laptops or desktops using their chosen NLE that is readily available to the general public – thus removing another barrier of entry that was the exclusive domain of broadcast TV budgets.

    And the point of learning all the technical aspects is for what reason? True you need to have some basic understanding (How to convert from interlaced to progressive, setting your project to broadcast standards for IRE, color, etc) but the bottom line is it truly doesn’t matter – especially if delivering to online.

    Michael’s right – plenty of content has been shot that is broadcast regularly on cameras that max out in cost at around $6000 – and many times for much less than that.

  12. I’m not talking about resolution quality. I’m talking about the problems that arise while editing and during output due to the long GOP group of pictures. Trust me….CBS knows what they are talking about. YOU do not!

  13. I am not a video engineer, but a cursory look would lead me to believe that this problem is not as insoluble as you might have us believe, particularly as the price for not dealing with it is effectively cutting out millions of potential video shooters from the network (or perhaps that is part of the motivation for the ‘insolubility’? In any event:

    would seem it indicate that long GOP for editing on HDV is but another speed bump but hardly the end of the road, no?

  14. maybe check the facts here Michael?

    “CBS news will not use any footage that did not originate in HD” is what you are saying.

    A link to someone from CBS news saying the same thing perhaps?

  15. Trust me….CBS knows what they are talking about. YOU do not!

    Yeah – CBS knows what they’re talking about – That’s why they’re having their O&O stations laying off the majority of their highly trained news people and looking to farm out their news to CNN. That speaks of credibility to me (sarcasm mine)…

    My stated examples above happen to have shot for CNN on those very A1U cameras and edited on laptop computers that you say I know nothing about. Looks like your position has been refuted to a certain extent.

    Want to remove the so called issues surrounding Long GOP? Use Cineform to transcode Long GOP footage shot to frame based AVI or MOV’s to edit – you have your option of 8 bit or 10bit color space. At NAB, Les Stroud, the host of the Discovery Channels Survivorman has stated that ALL post work is now being done in SONY Vegas Pro 8 – a less than $600 application that can edit both audio and video on the timeline and the series is shot with multiple cameras and formats – all handled without issue on the Vegas Pro timeline – seems to me that HDV is ready for broadcast and is doing just fine.

    I see your comments as about maintaining some form of closed elitist society of shooters in broadcast – guess what? That mentality is going the way of the dodo bird.

    It doesn’t matter what the detractors say – the Solo VJ paradigm and those who adhere to the philosophy of small cameras and laptop field editing are here to stay. Better techniques will evolve that will put how we shoot on par with the old way of shooting – and we will be more willing to adapt as the market changes – that I don’t see happening from the old school shooters.

  16. Hey Happycamper —
    Dismissing all HDV producers is kind of uppity. The ability to shoot hi quality video with inexpensive cameras, and cutting on laptops running FCP allows production companies to make money producing shows for networks. We have very successfully shot many shows for DCI channels on HDV. Once it’s ingested we convert to AIC to avoid the HDV editing issues and dreadful “HDV Conform”. We output to full height anamorphic 16:9 on Digi-Beta, layback our Pro-Tools mix (monitored with a LM-100 per DCI standards) and we ALWAYS pass DCI quality control. Did you ever see a DCI quality report card? If one frame is out of spec you fail.

    As far as CBS goes, if they chose, they could set up an HDV workflow. The problem with any large network operation is that they have to continue to integrate legacy gear — or probably in their case new HD gear and workflow with new technology. Transcoding HDV could be a pain in the ass in an HD workflow — or a parallel workflow could be set up to shoot/edit/process/ from HDV and then master for broadcast on IMX or HDCAM SR. Ultimately it’s a decision made by working up a business case for the use of the various technologies. At some point they’ll probably come around and start working more with HDV because of lower acquisition and editing costs, and it’s hard to see the difference.

    Cliff — if you are serious about producing video for the larger cable networks, you should not be dismissing their net ops technical requirements. Playing along with the specs could be the difference between getting a great gig or just being another low-budget web video producer.

  17. Steve – not dismissing at all – I’m investigating those technical issues, but to be honest, to predicate ones abilities to shoot hinges on understanding full blown technical aspects of going to broadcast is as you called it – uppity.

    I’m still grasping for what it means to edit with a certain IRE within Vegas Pro and to be honest, the kinds of technical reading this involves puts me fast asleep. I’m beginning to work with scopes and trying to wrap my head around what I’m seeing, but I’m not there yet – still doesn’t mean I can’t shoot for internet broadcast though.. 😉

  18. Try learning to shoot first

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