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by Bruce A Johnson

A 1981 graduate of the Boston University College of Communication, Bruce A. Johnson got his first job in broadcast television at WFTV, an ABC affiliate in Orlando, FL. While there, he rose through the ranks from teleprompter operator to videographer, editor, producer and director of many different types of programming. It was in the early 1980's that he bought his first computer - a Timex/Sinclair 1000 - a device he hated so much, he promptly exchanged it for an Atari 400. But the bug had bitten hard. In 1987, Johnson joined Wisconsin Public Te...

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Information IS Power…

...and here's the proof.

By Bruce A Johnson | March 05, 2009

I know this is a fairly off-topic post, but it is an amazing story nonetheless, and a stunning example of how having information-on-demand can level a playing field.Last week my family and I spent several days skiing in Steamboat Springs, Colorado (believe me, this was booked and paid for long before the current economic collapse. It may be my last ski trip ever.) After four days of wonderful skiing, it was time to go home to Madison. We were flying on an airline I'll call Airline A. We were supposed to connect through Dallas to a regional jet nonstop from DFW to Madison. Unfortunately, the inbound plane was late, and it would be impossible for us to make the connection in DFW. So we were rebooked on another Airline A flight through Chicago O'Hare, with a connection to Madison about two hours later. While setting this arrangement up, the ticket agent got a funny look on her face. "There seems to be only three seats available on that plane," she said. "One of you will have to stand by." Seemed like a bad idea, as my wife, two daughters and I all had to be engaged in the real world the next morning. So the agent disappears behind the wall to talk to the supervisor. While she was gone, I grabbed my iPod Touch and took advantage of the Yampa Valley Regional Airport's free WiFi (sorry Boingo, but EVERY AIRPORT should have free WiFi) to access the website of a company I'll call Airline U. I found an ORD - MSN flight on Airline U that could get me home that same evening.The supervisor comes out, stares at the screen, and clucks. "Sorry," she said, "but there are only three seats available. Someone will have to go standby."I held up the iPod. "How about you rebook me on Airline U's flight? Seems like a workable solution."Then the magic happened.She looked at the screen again. "Hey, what do you know? Another seat just came available!"I kid you not. It happened JUST THAT FAST. Information IS power.PS: When we finally got on the plane, there were no less than SIX empty seats. Airline A's yield management software could use an update, I think.I promise I'll get back to video posts real soon, but this was just so amazing I had to tell somebody! Read More

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9 Hours On The Front Line Of The DTV Transition

By Bruce A Johnson | February 25, 2009

Will you remember where you were on February 19, 2009? I will - although the final event was watered-down and has yet to actually happen, that is the day that analog TV broadcasting was to cease in the United States. In an attempt to lessen the impact on Wisconsinites, Wisconsin Public Television (my day-job) set up a phone bank for viewers of all stations - commercial AND public - to call for tips, advice and information on what just happened. While nationwide only about a third of TV stations have now turned off their analog signals, in Wisconsin the shutoff is almost total, and that left a lot of people - generally elderly, and many rural - with snow where Oprah used to be. So they called us, and in a 3-day period we fielded over 1500 calls. I spent 9 hours one day on the phones, and talked to about 75 viewers all told. Some people's questions were easy to fix - rescanning for channels, or explaining what the yellow/red/white cable should be plugged into - but some were heartbreaking. There is a lot of wide open space in the northern part of Wisconsin, and unless people have really high-gain antennas with rotators on 50+ foot towers, many aren't going to recieve any signal at all. The city of Wisconsin Rapids sits 50 miles south of Wausau, and while people were able to get acceptable (although snowy) analog signals, in digital they are blind thanks to the "cliff effect" - in essence, while an analog signal will fade away to snow over distance, digital will disappear completely if you don't recieve 50.1% of the bits being transmitted. Wisconsin Rapids is, literally, "off the cliff." And people are not happy about this. Several of my colleagues reported people in tears, and while that might sound trite to you, think again - a lot of these people are elderly and isolated and use the TV as entertainment, information and yes, even as a companion. To tell these folks that their TV went away because a cell-phone company wants more 3G spectrum is just sickening to me.Even more sickening than that is the attitude I see on so many Weblogs, with people (presumably young, male and geeky) spouting off that anyone who isn't aware or ready for the analog cutoff doesn't deserve TV at all! These heartless bastards seem to forget that there are many people out there that either can't afford cable or satellite TV, or in many cases just can't get it (cable penetration in rural areas is notoriously low.) But, what's done is done. The new analog cutoff date - June 12 - will be here before we know it. I strongly suggest that all of us look around our friends, families and others and ask if anyone is not ready for the end of analog TV. If they aren't, help get them ready. Consider it your good deed for the century. And maybe the heartless bastards can get out there and help as well. Maybe it could help them grow some semblance of a heart. Read More

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More Storage Goodness From Vantec!

More Storage Goodness From Vantec!

Sometimes two is better than one...

By Bruce A Johnson | February 25, 2009

Way back when in October 2008, I gushed about the Vantec external eSATA/USB2 drive dock. Well, if one bay in the dock is good, I suppose two bays are, well, super good. This link goes to the ThinkGeek listing for the dual-bay Vantec, and as much as I love the stuff ThinkGeek sells, I'm sure this jewel is available in all sorts of places. Check it out. And when you do buy one, be sure to hook it up through the eSATA port - for 3Gb/sec transfer - instead of the measly USB2 port and it's pathetic 480Mb/sec. (Imagine that last line in the voice of Star Wars' Emperor Palpatine. )Excuses for safe storage of projects are disappearing daily. That's a nice trend I hope will continue. Read More

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So Analog TV Has Gone Away…

So Analog TV Has Gone Away…

...Did You Notice?

By Bruce A Johnson | February 18, 2009

Today is February 18, 2009, the day after roughly half of the US analog TV transmitters were shut off for the last time. While I didn't see any of it happen with my own two eyes, all of the Madison stations that pulled the plug (The Fox affiliate and Wisconsin Public TV are staying on in analog for now) did it with some fanfare, with the ABC affiliate even showing one of their engineers actually pushing the "off" button for real. Others played the National Anthem, showed fireworks, and some went to the Indian Head test pattern that was the staple of broadcasting for many years. Of course, today's generation can look on this with bemusement, because these days it is a rare event for a TV station to ever go off the air. (Search Youtube with "analog shutoff" and you'll see almost a hundred submissions - I assume many more will be posted in the coming days.)So anyway, this morning I see an email from a colleague with a link to an FCC tool that compares the theoretical coverage maps of stations before and after the analog shutdown. It is located here. Fair warning - I couldn't get the app to work in Firefox, but once I went to the Internet Explorer rendering engine all was fine. It is fascinating, instructive information, and when used in conjunction with the Consumer Electronics Association's Antennaweb.org could be quite predictive of what viewers might - or might not - see in the post-analog age. Read More

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Muzak Files For Bankruptcy

Muzak Files For Bankruptcy

I'm not exactly sure how to feel about this...

By Bruce A Johnson | February 11, 2009

I'm sure none of us root for people to lose their jobs, but in this case, I'm conflicted:Muzak has filed for bankruptcy.FTA:Closely held Muzak supplies more than 2 million songs and music to retailers to help set the mood in their stores, in hopes of influencing shoppers to become buyers. Muzak was founded in the 1930s by U.S. Army General George Squier, who adapted military messaging technology to pipe music into elevators to drown out the noise they produced, according to its Web site.Muzak later began marketing to employers, citing research showing that background music could increase employee productivity. By the early 1970s, Muzak was selling its original recordings of songs, performed without lyrics, to retailers.Today, Muzak delivers music from more than 80 genres via satellite or by producing custom mixes. Customers have included McDonald's Corp., Ann Taylor Stores Corp. and AT&T Inc., Muzak said on its Web site. Of course, bankruptcy - at least Chapter 11 - doesn't necessarily mean the silencing of the Muzak. However, I could live without the elevator version of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" that scars my psyche to this day. Gives me chills. Not good ones, either. Read More

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Who’s Watching Hulu?

Who’s Watching Hulu?

It Might Not Be Who You Think....

By Bruce A Johnson | February 11, 2009

Interesting news from the Wall Street Journal, via the NAB Newsbrief:Confounding experts that predicted floods of young adults would abandon TV for websites like Hulu.com, it appears that... (FTA)When the company launched (Hulu) last March, the largest age group visiting the site were those Internet visitors over 55 years old, accounting for 47% of all site visits, while traditionally younger early adopters accounted for only 17% of traffic.Wow. Maybe the old folks aren't entirely fossilized yet. Of course, there is a claimed reason that Hulu is so popular with the Geritol set, as opposed to, say, YouTube:It later became clear that what first appeared to be a data anomaly was the result of Hulu.com's very Web 1.0 launch strategy, which used articles in the New York Times and other newspapers to attract viewers. As a result, after its release in October 2007, more than 20% of Hulu's traffic came from newspaper Web sites. The largest age demographic for visitors to print news Web sites is older Internet users over the age of 55.So it's all about how you promote your site? Hmmmm. I do remember very clearly the day I decided the Web was going to stick - it was when I saw a Buick ad on TV in the mid-90's that had, in tiny type on the bottom, the words "buick.com." If the uncoolest car brand in the world could see the value, maybe we all could, eventually.So are we on our way to a stratified World Wide Web, where the kids own some stuff and the codgers own the rest? It seems we might already be there (this is one of the downsides of almost unlimited choice.) But look out, kids - I hear the fastest-growing cohort of new members on Facebook is - you guessed it - over-50's.Is nothing sacred anymore? Read More

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DTV Transition:  It Couldn’t Get Worse Than This!

Or Can It?

By Bruce A Johnson | February 06, 2009

Hoo doggies, not even I could have predicted this one! I have been preaching doom for the digital TV transition since 2001 (Hey DV.com!! Wanna put your archives back online? A grateful nation would thank you...) but although a delay in the February 17, 2009 deadline was a pretty easy call, I totally missed the coup de gras:Now stations can turn their analog transmitters off whenever they want! Great, so the lights are going to blink off one by one, with the public fairly clueless about who will and who won't be on the air in analog. Of course, stations have ample incentive to stop analog broadcasting, as their transmitters are voracious energy hogs (I hear $20,000 a month in electricity isn't unusual) and in many cases are old, creaky and unreliable.In my market - Madison WI - the ABC, NBC and CBS affiliates have all announced their intent to cease analog broadcasting on February 17th. The Fox affiliate hasn't said much about their plans, and Wisconsin Public Broadcasting (my day job) will stay on in analog until a yet-to-be-determined time. I couldn't write a better prescription for confusion if I tried.And it keeps getting better - the bill that delays the switch contains no new money for the Federal coupon program, which could be the only justifiable reason for a delay - to pump a little helium into the sagging balloon that is the transition. The coupons are gone, and yet there is now a waiting list. Anyone out there think that this will end well? Read More

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Get Your Finger Off That Dissolve Button!

How NLE's Killed The Art Of Editing

By Bruce A Johnson | February 02, 2009

I can barely watch television anymore. Seriously. It seems that no one knows how to edit anymore, and the culprit in this demise is the non-linear editor. Allow me to explain.About 20 years ago, I went to Los Angeles to visit a friend that had landed a producing job at KNBC. During my tour of the station, my friend towed me through the edit suites. Above the door was a huge banner that read:IF YOU CAN'T SAY IT WITH A CUT, MAYBE YOU SHOULDN'T SAY IT AT ALL.I thought it was funny then. At that time - the late 1980's - editing was strictly a linear, tape-to-tape affair, and footage was recorded to tape. This wasn't too big of a deal most of the time, because most edit suites were cuts-only, machine-to-machine rigs. However, once in a while you'd run across a multi-machine A/B roll suite, with an edit computer controlling the whole shebang, including a video switcher. This was Valhalla for a creative-minded editor, because now the whole wide world of dissolves, wipes, keys and maybe even DVE moves were available at your fingertips - except when you wanted to do an effect between two shots that were on the same tape. That's when the "dub reel" came into play. (Later, some tape formats incorporated digital memory in the form of "pre-read," but that's another story.) If you really HAD to have that dissolve, you would cue up the 2nd shot in the player deck, then dub it over to another tape - the "dub reel." The dub reel got placed in the second playback deck, the tapes were cued and prerolled, and the dissolve magically appeared (assuming there wasn't a glitch, of which there were many.) As laborious as this sounds, believe me, it was actually worse than that. So, many dissolves just didn't happen - no one wanted to go through all that hassle over and over again. And oddly enough, our editing and storytelling skills were sharpened by the need to think our way around changes in place and time that occurred within a story. Because that is essentially where dissolves belong - at changes in place and time, and very few other places at all.All that is gone today. Every shot in an NLE can be butted up against any other, and any of a million transitions can be placed in between. I see stories on both local and network TV that will dissolve between the wide shot and the closeup in the SAME INTERVIEW! I see dissolves used as a kind of salve between two soundbites of the SAME PERSON, sitting in the same place, at the same focal length! Don't these photogs shoot any B-roll? Do the managers think people won't notice? Well, I notice, and it screams in my head:LAZY EDITOR.But, hey. It's a USA Today world, right? Good enough is good enough, right? Sorry, but I dissent. And I'll fight for the day when dissolves are rare and motivated, when L-cuts and J-cuts come back into fashion, and editing rises again above the level of slamming footage together as fast as possible to get that dreck on the air. Read More

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Build A Lumberyard Lighting Kit

Build A Lumberyard Lighting Kit

Illumination On The Cheap!

By Bruce A Johnson | February 01, 2009

It's my belief that the most under-rated skill in video production is lighting. If you know what you are doing, even an inexpensive camera can make impressive pictures (and of course, the reverse is also true - if you don't know what you are up to, even a great camera can look terrible.) If you snoop around at sites like B&H Photo and Video, you'll quickly discover that a professional lighting kit is no small expense; it is not uncommon for a single light to cost upwards of $500, and boxed kits are often over $2000. But don't despair! A lot of the basic things you need to do a good job of lighting are doable with equipment can be bought for small money at your local lumberyard. (You'll also be taking a few side trips too.) Let's have a look around and see what's available. Read More

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Oooh, I Got Trouble.  Drive Trouble.

Oooh, I Got Trouble.  Drive Trouble.

And You Might Too!

By Bruce A Johnson | January 19, 2009

I love a bargain. That's one of the reasons I take emails from TigerDirect. Not everything Carl Fiorentino and his troops come up with is great, but often you can find real gems. And so I thought when I saw a Seagate Barracuda 1.5Tb hard drive on sale for $140. In the collapsing world of hard drive manufacturers, Seagate has always had a sterling reputation, one they defend with 5-year warranty. So I figured, what could go wrong?Well, this could go wrong.It seems that Seagate 1.5Tb drives running under Windows Vista and Mac OSX can slow down, freeze up or fail altogether. Apparently, all data is still preserved on the otherwise-bricked drive, but still: Is this the best we can expect? I mean, this is SEAGATE. The Cadillac Lexus of hard drives. Seagate says the drives can be repaired with a firmware update, and has set up a webpage to help identify the defective drives. I haven't yet installed that drive, and I won't till it is cleared by Seagate. But still, it gives me chills. I guess we aren't any less safe that we ever were, but how many projects do you have stored on hard drives? I have - literally - dozens.What do you trust for long-term storage? Read More

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Take A Deep Breath

Take A Deep Breath

Is Network Neutrality Saved?

By Bruce A Johnson | January 14, 2009

President-Elect Barack Obama has nominated an old Harvard classmate to be the new chairman of the FCC. Julius Genachowski has a pretty deep background in the Internet, as this biography on Wikipedia points out. He is described as a strong proponent of network neutrality, the essential nut of which is that Internet service providers cannot favor one type of traffic over another - for example, Comcast can't slow down Google packets while allowing others to travel unimpeded. Reporting of the Genachowski appointment hasn't been all skittles and beer, though. ZDNet is sounding a much more cautious tone, seemingly based on the fact that there really isn't too much detailed information about Genachowski out there. He has experience in the big media space, working at Barry Diller's InterActive Corp., which at times has enveloped companies like Ticketmaster, Home Shopping Network, Match.Com, CollegeHumor, 23/6, and dozens of others. But it is his stance on net neutrality that should most interest the PVC crowd. What if you find that you finish your masterpiece video, upload it to some distribution site, and then find that it can't be seen by anyone on RoadRunner? Or Charter? Or AT&T? Let's hope that a Genachowski FCC can make unequivocal, long-lasting rules to keep the free flow of the Internet free for years to come. Read More

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Sony EX1 Alternative Recording Media UPDATE!

Sony EX1 Alternative Recording Media UPDATE!

Now You Can Close The Door!

By Bruce A Johnson | January 02, 2009

If you have been following the saga of alternative recording media for the Sony EX1 and EX3 XDCam EX cameras, you'll recall that the main problem with using the Kensington ExpressCard 34 adapter is that when loaded into the EX1, the media door can not close. (The EX3 has no door problem with the Kensington card.) Well, the good Aussies at E-Films have grabbed the EX1 bull by the horns, so to speak. They designed a ExpressCard34 adapter that is low-profile enough that it fits comfortably behind the media door on the EX1, so dust and other contamination should not be an issue. It also has one other big advantage over the Kensington adapter - it's actually available! Order it here and save yourself from ridiculously expensive Sony SxS media. I'm really impressed with the initiative show by the E-Films folks. Good on ya!Big thanks to Jim Feeley for the link to the ordering page! Read More

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Who Wants To Own A TV Station?

Who Wants To Own A TV Station?

By Bruce A Johnson | January 02, 2009

How many mail-lists are you on? I receive about a dozen, some daily, some less so. One I read everyday is published by the National Association of Broadcasters (that's the "NAB" in "NAB Show," every video geek's must-visit toystore. It's in Las Vegas in April. Go.) So what is the headline for today, January 2, 2009?Loosening ownership rules could be key to media's recoveryThe headline links to this article in Variety Magazine, written by Brian Lowery. It is a very thoughtful piece on what the future of television broadcasting - both national and local - may turn out to be, absent intervention from the government. And it points out once again a tightrope that I think the NAB does a very bad job of walking - balancing the desires of its largest members (especially Fox) for avaricious, unlimited ownership of broadcast stations across the US against the small owners, with one or five or eight or a dozen stations. And it once again ignores the real losers in either a meltdown or a "one owner to rule them all" scenario - the local viewers, who often depend on local TV to be their primary news source, for good or ill.So where do you stand? Is local TV dead for you already? For that matter, is broadcasting dead, drowned by the Internet wave? I'd like to hear what the PVC community values in local TV. Fire away!PS: While you are on the Variety site, be sure to read some of Brian Lowery's other columns - he's a really insightful, entertaining writer. And he seems to agree with me on what the prime-time Jay Leno show means for NBC - and for production personnel. Read More

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I Interviewed Santa Today!

I Interviewed Santa Today!

...With Surprising Results.

By Bruce A Johnson | December 19, 2008

I'm kind of a "utility infielder" at Wisconsin Public Television. I've been there 21 years now, and for the first 14 I was a full-time videographer and editor. About seven years ago I was tapped to join what is called the Digital Innovations Unit, mostly because I know about computers and such, but I still shoot and edit fairly often. And today was one of those days I filled in.The News Department uses "person-on-the-street" interviews as bumpers in our weekly news wrapup show, and today was my time to shoot them. I went out with an audio person and an intern (all anonymity will be respected) to a local mall. We were asking the passers-by about budget deficits and an impending snowstorm, and before long we had enough answers to wrap it up. But guess who else is in the mall in December? Yep, Jolly Old St. Nick! So we figured it might be a good idea to ask Santa what he does when the weather gets rough. His response was as flat and monotone as the dialog in any Dragnet episode you've ever seen:"I get on the Web, go to Priceline, book a $35 room at the Mayflower Motel, and hunker down."Whaaaaaaaat? (Note: The Mayflower is a local flophouse motel.)We gave him another shot at it. I mean, it's Christmas, right?"Well, I usually have to get rid of all the snow myself. Nobody helps." Pause. "Well, sometimes the elves help."And that was it.Dude. Think maybe, just maybe, you are in the wrong line of work? All he had to do was bust out a big "HO HO HO! I LOVE snow! Rudolph's nose shows up SO GOOD in a blizzard!" But no, he was a little too wrapped up in himself that he couldn't be bothered to boost Santa's image among the handful of people watching WPT at that particular second.After we left, I started to think about old Santa, and all the times I might have let attitude get in the way of a job, or even common courtesy. I'm going to try to remember what I saw today, and use the reverse next time I'm tempted to be a little too tart. Read More

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Cognitive Dissonance and the One-Man Band

Cognitive Dissonance and the One-Man Band

Some Things Just Don't Fit Together

By Bruce A Johnson | December 13, 2008

You ever have one of those weeks where the front part just doesn't match up with the back part? I did, just last week.For months in advance, Monday December 8 had been block-booked for all shooters, audio people, producers and production types at Wisconsin Public Television, to make it possible for them to attend a seminar entitled "Storytelling Is A Team Sport." It was given by Boyd Huppert and Jonathan Malat, a reporter and photojournalist (respectively) from KARE11-TV, the NBC affiliate in Minneapolis. While they still have to do the basic news assignments that make up the bulk of a TV newscast, KARE blocks out sections of their shows for longer-form stories, up to 5 minutes in length. And in a very competitive news market, KARE is always found at or near the top of the ratings. Huppert and Malat have created a brand for their work entitled "Land of 10,000 Stories," and the examples they showed us were stellar. You could tell just by the way they traded back and forth that they had a great sync, one covering the other's back, then seamlessly switching places.They spoke for about six hours, and I can honestly say I wasn't bored for a second. Some of the tips they offered - put a curly-cord on your shotgun mic, so you can pop it off the camera and get it closer to the subject, or in the dark use a laptop screen as an impromptu softlight - are quite applicable to the work we do at WPT. And it is always good to get a sense of what the other guys are doing. I came away with a bit more energy for my next assignment.Then Friday rolls around, and Jim Feeley sends me this link from the Washington Post. If you don't want to click the link, I'll print the headline for you:WUSA Moves to One-Person News CrewsThat's right. In Washington DC, the ninth-largest TV market, one-person crews will be shooting, reporting, and editing stories for a network affiliate. From the article:""We believe strongly that [this change] will raise both the quality and quantity of the product we're putting out" on TV and on the internet, said Allan Horlick, the president and general manager of WUSA, in an interview yesterday."Oh yeah, one more thing: The "Mo-Jos" - mobile journalists - are getting their pay cut. A lot. FTA:WUSA -- owned by McLean-based media giant Gannett -- plans an across-the-board cut in reporters' salaries as it increases their responsibilities. Multimedia journalists will earn 30 to 50 percent less than what traditional reporters have been earning, with salaries topping out at around $90,000 annually, according to people at the station. Funny, but that doesn't sound like the recipe for increased "quality" in reporting and shooting. Quantity, yeah, probably. Quality? Give me a break. And lets not forget that reporting from the streets of any major American city can be dangerous, from traffic to camera thieves to basic run-of-the-mill mugging. It's important to have a second pair of eyes to keep both of you safe.Yes, I understand that the dismal economy and future tech both tend to be pushing against the newspaper and broadcasting businesses. But Gannett actually INCREASED their stock dividend this year. And a listing of all their newspaper properties show that in 2007 all but one was profitable. Somehow I doubt Gannett is going to disappear tomorrow.Now, the more aware of you may have already sniffed out the O. Henry ending to this tale. KARE11, that station where Boyd Huppert and Jon Malat do such great team-driven storytelling? Oh yeah: it is also owned by Gannett.So what do you think? Should video journalism be a lowest-cost affair? Or is it worthwhile to pay professional wages for professional work? I know where I stand. Read More

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An EX-3 Review In Process, Part 2

An EX-3 Review In Process, Part 2

Can It Fit Into Our Process?

By Bruce A Johnson | December 11, 2008

In the previous post of this series, I was introducing the Sony EX-3 to the Wisconsin Public Television community, and pointing out some of the potential advantages the SxS-media-driven workflow optimizations might lend. Yesterday it was time to actually try some out.With the help of our Avid specialist, we tried to ingest some footage and actually edit it. So we started out working on the system at his desk. He downloaded EX-3 Clip Browser, which is essential to converting the EX-3's files to .MXF, the standard format the Avid speaks. (If I confuse some terms here, don't shoot me - I'm not the most knowledgeable Avid guy around. Ask me about Adobe Premiere Pro - that I can do.) Problem #1: EX-3 Clip Browser will only run on Intel Macs, not the PowerPC we are working on. OK, change of venue to one of our PC-based Avid Adrenalin hi-def bays. Problem #2: While Clip Browser runs great on the HP chassis, the software in Edit 6 is several years old, and will not recognize anything Clip Browser will spit out. Back to the desk, where our Avid guy is working with Media Composer 3, in advance of rolling it out to all the suites in the near future when Avid Interplay is supposed to be installed in our plant. The files work great there...but there's no hi-def monitor or scopes to really examine the footage. So here we have meta-problem #1: Since so much of our editing hardware and software has been acquired over the best part of a decade, versions vary from room to room. The installation of Interplay is supposed to alleviate this, but is still some time in the future. So, short answer: At present, using EX-3-acquired footage in our plant will be very difficult. Ask again in six months, though, and things may be totally different. One very pleasant surprise is the speed with which the EX-3 footage downloads off the SxS cards via USB2 - what I had figured would be a hair-pulling long time was in reality only a little less than twice as long as using the native ExpressCard slot on my Lenovo netbook. And re-wrapping the files once downloaded was a pretty fast process as well.After that experience, my buddy (and assistant chief engineer) Paul Stoffel asked me to run outside and see how the EX-3 handles faces, motion, and snow. Since we have a foot of the white stuff on the ground, it is pretty easy to find a white balance source. I happen to wander out directly into class-passing time on the University of Wisconsin campus, so finding faces in motion was easy. Unfortunately, in my zeal I get the roll/stop thing backwards, and come back with great footage of my feet trudging through slush. So back out I go, shooting faces, cars driving by, long shots of campus landmarks, the State Capitol in the distance, flashing traffic lights, the whole nine yards. Since I didn't bring a tripod with me, I had SteadyShot engaged. Truth be told, I have always found Sony's SteadyShot rather lacking; it's electronic approach to image stabilization just doesn't seem that effective, especially when compared to Canon's excellent optical stabilization on so many of their cameras. In any event, in the interest of reducing the "queasy" factor on playback, I engage SteadyShot, and it seems to work OK. It's only on playback in video control (with an excellent Sony HD monitor and Tektronix scopes) that I see how much detail you lose when it is engaged. Paul points this out, and seems rather unimpressed, so I go out again and shoot more footage without SteadyShot. It does seem crisper, if jumpier - the tripod is a magic invention, isn't it?So far, it seems that the EX-3 is holding it's own. No camera is ever going to be perfect, and trade-offs will always have to be made. In the next weeks I hope to get it into the hands of many more of my colleagues, including on a shoot this morning in Neenah, Wisconsin, which I have to get ready to leave on. Have I mentioned it's 3:30AM? I just can't sleep before an early depart. Arrrrrgh.By the way, my Kensington ExpressCard34 adapter arrived from Amazon last night. Once my Sandisk 16GB SDHC card gets here, I can start testing the alternative media for the EX-3. That promises to be a lot of fun.More later. Read More

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Did Jay Leno Just Take Your Job?

Did Jay Leno Just Take Your Job?

A Heads-Up For Production People

By Bruce A Johnson | December 09, 2008

You may have heard the news that Jay Leno will not be leaving NBC once his contract runs out in 2009. Instead, he will essentially lift up "The Tonight Show" and move it from the 11:30P Eastern and Pacific/10:30PM Central time slot and drop anchor at 10PM E/P - 9P Central. That's right, a five-night-a-week entertainment talk show strip in prime time on a major network. This is essentially unprecedented, and carries with it major bad news for lots of people in the production community. Think about it - if Leno has 10PM five nights a week, what shows won't be there? Shall we make a list?Well, this year on NBC Monday through Friday at 10PM we have: My Own Worst Enemy, Law and Order: SVU, Law And Order (the original version), ER, and Dateline NBC. Four out of those five hours are scripted drama. These shows employ a LOT of people - DP's, AC's, writers, gaffers, grips, makeup, craft services, drivers, the whole thing. I bet some of those folks read this site, and a lot more of our readers wish they were a part of that community. There is a reason Jay Leno is being given the entire 10PM hour: Compared to scripted drama or comedy, producing a live talk show costs NOTHING. If this trend sticks (and I would hedge my bets on that for a while) this could really tear the production communities in Hollywood, New York City and all across the US apart.Now, the caveat: I do have a little sympathy for NBC. They are mired in fourth place in the ratings, and after the huge run of success they had with "Must-See TV" in the 1990's that must sting doubly bad. But now the confession - I do not watch ANY of those shows. I am so burned out on the 21st-century versions of crime, lawyers, doctors and "reality" that there is really little on the broadcast TV networks I do appreciate (major exceptions: The Simpsons and Lost.) But instead of trying harder - of developing the next Seinfeld or St. Elsewhere (which really wasn't a doctor show, at it's heart) or Friends or you-name-your-favorite, they throw in the towel. That's just sad. The network that brought us Hill Street Blues, The West Wing, Bonanza and Star Trek (!) is giving up, trying to squeeze a dollar until George Washington screams. I sort of like Jay Leno, but I can't wish him luck in this venture - it signals a sad decline in what television has been, and could be again, if someone at NBC would just have some guts. And I feel terrible for all the talented crew folks that will see a much less lucrative 2009. Imagine how bad it could get if CBS and ABC go the same way. Read More

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An EX-3 Review In Process

An EX-3 Review In Process

Is the EX3 For WPT?

By Bruce A Johnson | December 06, 2008

I've already made it clear that I am a Sony EX1/EX3 fan. I think Sony may have hit the sweet spot that makes solid-state recording a usable technology for broadcasters, in conjunction with XDCam disc recording for archive and backups.However, steering an entire broadcast station to a conclusion like that is a much harder process. There are many more variables involved than "Hey, Bruce likes it!" (And truth be told, in many senses an endorsement from me is just noise on management's radar.) Our capital budgets are small and constrained by many competing priorities, not the least of which is and was the conversion to digital TV. But the sea-change that the SxS recording system represents deserves a close examination. To that end, I have secured a loaner EX3 camera from Sony, with the purpose of showing it and it's workflow to all stakeholders in the production process. This includes shooters, audio people, engineers, management, the media librarian and more. Early reviews are quite positive.At the same time, I have been starting to play with the bleeding edge of the SxS system - using adapters and SDHC media to lower the cost of recording. (I previously posted about this rather surprising turn of events here.) The adapter and media of choice for this trick is currently the Kensington 33407 media reader card and the preferred media itself is the Sandisk 16Gb Ultra II card or the Transcend 16Gb class 6 card. (Those last two links lead to Amazon pages.) Check out the prices - the Transcend card is under $30! For an HOUR of recording time! Those are the kind of numbers that will make station management sit up and notice. We currently pay about $25 per tape for half-hour HDCam stock. That means SxS represents real savings in not just cash costs, but personnel as well. I dumped an 8Gb SxS card into a Lenovo micro-laptop in about 4 minutes - SEVEN times realtime. Long waits for digitizing could be a thing of the past. It is not inconceivable that a switch from HDCam to SxS could pay for itself in less than six months.So what am I seeing here? Is this a real revolution, or just a mirage? Am I being blinded by "gear lust?" I sure hope not, because for less than $9000 the EX3 is an extremely impressive camera. The fact that it could pay for itself with cost savings in very short order is icing on the cake - a very thick, creamy, flavorful icing.Or am I nuts? Read More

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The Golden Triangle Of video Production

The One Rule You MUST Live by

By Bruce A Johnson | November 29, 2008

I love short, pithy sayings. I love them even more if they happen to be true. I learned this one early on in my career, and it is iron-clad, inviolate and forever correct. And it goes a little something like this:"Good, Fast Or Cheap - Pick Any Two."There is a ton of truth there. Think about it - if a client wants something fast and cheap, it isn't going to be good. If a client wants something fast and good, it isn't going to be cheap. And if a client wants something good and cheap, it isn't going to be fast.Learn it. Live it. Love it. Because if you ignore it, it'll still be true, and you (and your business) will suffer. Read More

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The Greatest Business Advice I Ever Ignored

or: You Can Lead A Whore To Culture...

By Bruce A Johnson | November 23, 2008

While it is true that I am not a full-time freelancer - that is to say, I have a day job, and I use freelance work to augment my salary - it is still true that the cratering economy affects me, and even more all my friends that ARE full-time freelancers. And while my day-job is at a statewide public television network, I actually got my start in TV at a commercial station, the ABC affiliate in Orlando, FL. Back in the early 1980's, Orlando was still in the early part of the Walt Disney-fueled population explosion, and in the six years I was at WFTV, the market grew from #38 to #26, which is astonishing growth (it is #23 now.) I consider it my great good fortune to have run across a few mentors in my time there, and one lesson I learned comes to the top of my mind on a daily basis.I was lucky to land at WFTV, a place that at the time that still did a lot of local production. I worked on an early-morning live variety/news show, a movie strip/game show called "Dialing for Dollars," many, many newscasts, and I got to work in the field on live remotes and on single-camera shoots of commercials, promos, and all kids of programming. What I was blissfully unaware of, however, was the relationship between the production department and the sales department. I could never seem to grasp why we couldn't produce some of my epic programming ideas, like live coverage of a 100-mile bicycle race, or a nightly all-field-tape documentary series based on WCVB-TV Boston's outstanding "Chronicle" series (that is still running to this day.) Once in a while, I would drop into the office of the local sales manager, a great, friendly guy named Bruce Baker. For whatever reason, he took mercy on this callow kid, patiently explaining - over and over again - the relationship between producing a local extravaganza and being able (or, more often, unable) to sell ads within it. One day, I plopped my butt down on his couch, and waited for him to get off the phone. It was then I noticed something on his desk I had never seen before, a very small sign with a very big message. It read:"In good times, you should advertise.In bad times, you MUST advertise."Wow. That is a really important concept, and is especially true in the brave new world of the Web, where everyone can look to be as big as anyone else, if you build the message right. Of course, it is a lesson I have stubbornly refused to take to heart - if you need proof, just surf over to www.ppmm.com, which has been un-modified in several years at least. I guess the old saw - you can lead a whore to culture, but you can't make her think - is true in spades for me.While I haven't spoken to him is over 20 years, I have watched Baker's career from afar, thanks to the World Wide Web. As befits a man of his knowledge and affability, Baker has risen through the ranks of WFTV's ownership group, Cox Communications. It seems that he will soon assume the title of President of Television Stations for Cox, after stints as general manager at WSOC, WSAN and WSB-TV and executive VP for stations with Cox. This is one of those times the old saw "it couldn't happen to a nicer guy" fits like a glove. And the message I noticed on his desk over two decades ago is as true today as it was then. Sounds like I have an early New Years resolution to fullfill. Read More

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