A tale of three tapes

Here’s a good example of how TV is changing.

I got an email from the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric asking me to tape one of those “free speech” segments they’ve been airing. I wrote a script and went back and forth on it a bit. I mentioned Dan Rather. That made someone nervous. Then they said it was OK. And so I included him in my final script — after another clearance. And I recorded it. I’m not sure, given the Rather reference, whether it will ever air. I’ll let you know.

From a media perspective, what hit me was the experience of taping the segment. I’ve done many things like this before, but this time, I counted how many people were involved in getting me on tape: seven producers, camera people, sound people, teleprompter people — plus God know how many more producers and editors who took it then.

At home, I took the exact same script and with some photos to illustrate my points and produced the segment alone, in my den, on two programs: iMovie and VideoCue, a Mac competitor to Visual Communicator, which gives you a teleprompter and the ability to drag-and-drop graphics, lower thirds, photos, audio, or video onto your script so the’re all recorded along with you (no need for editing). I’ve used these tools before and had to brush up on them anyway for my CUNY class. They make it incredibly easy to make TV. Will my segments look at good as CBS’? Well, that depends on your definition of good but probably not. Still, the thoughts and the talking head spewing them were exactly the same.

So compare: probably a dozen people involved in my little 1:30 at CBS; one person at Buzzmachine World Headquarters. Networks will collapse from their bloat.

Then this week, ABCNews.com emailed asking me to do a 1:30 commentary about changing TV for them. They wanted me to come into the studio. No, I said, let’s not just talk about changing TV, let’s change it. I wanted to record the segment at Buzzmachine HQ. The producer was nervous and didn’t think he bosses would buy it, but they did. I recorded my script and FTPed the video to them. They then proceeded to produce the bejesus out of it with dancing graphics and flying Jarvises, to distract from my bad accoustics (and haircut), no doubt. Here‘s the final product.

And then last Friday, Amanda Congdon and crew came through Jersey to my HQ to tape a vlog for Amanda’s across-the-country video tour. She came to the door with here three friends bearing cameras trailing behind, Boswelling her every move. Then they set up in the den with lights, a decent mic, an HD camera set to focus on Amanda and me on the couch in front of the books that make me look smart, and with two of them roaming with two more video cameras and a third shooting stills. It was a three-camera shoot! Cable networks and sitcoms don’t use three-camera shoots anymore. On top of that, it was in HDTV. Amanda’s friend Mario said the whole set up cost something like $2 grand. Compare this, again, with the big networks. And compare the quality of their work, instead of mine, with the big guys. They shot 45 minutes of my blather on three tapes — poor Chuck Olsen had to edit it — and at the end, they brought in my kids, Jake and Julia, for their moment in the video spotlight. (My wife, for no earthly reason, doesn’t like cameras and Chuck edited out the family cat). It was a hoot. The first segment is here; I’m so long-winded, I get a second one here.

In the second segment, Amanda and I got into a tussle over TV. I said she — and Rocketboom and Ze Frank and Chuck Olsen and countless new colleagues — were making the new television. She said she didn’t want her stuff called TV; she said it’s something new, it’s a video blog. I argued, in turn, that the definition of TV is up for grabs and that she should grab it: Don’t let the big, old guys define and own TV. New tools, technology, and talent are opening TV up to a million new creators who are reinventing TV itself. And it’s about time.

  • TV is made by deep pockeded networks who pay for FCC licenses and come into homes via radio waves or wires. Video is what individuals have control over and they can get it from any source they want. Networks can make their TV into video and let viewers have control over which clips they watch. They can even splash the page full of ads. So why don’t they?

  • Mumblix Grumph

    Jeff, if you’re going to do more of these in the future…PLEASE get a better microphone. This sounded like it was being recorded in the men’s room of a Stucky’s out on Route 14. It did distract from the message. But you did make your point very effectively.

  • On politics and economics, Jeff is a fish, miles from the water. But on media topics he knows what he is talking about.

  • Jeff congrats on the CBS thing. Nice to see they’re starting to pull commentators from other parts of the political spectrum than just the right…

  • JamesBruni

    Kudos on your ABC essay. It was right on target. The medium was the messaage in that segment.

  • JamesBruni

    Kudos on your ABC essay. It was right on target. The medium was the message in that segment.

  • Mumblix: I bought the Shure mic they sell at Apple and it sounded no better and perhaps worse than the iSight. Recommendations?
    Rich: Hold on that until and unless the CBS segment airs. We’ll see…
    James, tnx

  • First – your haircut wasn’t all that bad. :-)

    I’m not sold on the idea of using the “TV” label to point to Amanda’s products. Could she (and others) grab the label and redefine it – Perhaps. Could it cause confusion or somehow make what she does seem less appealing to some (especially the younger audience) – YES.

    Changing the definition is probably something that has to be done gradually – TV still means “traditional” content, creation, and distribution mechanisms to most people. I suppose she could start with something like “Video blogging, the evolution of TV” or “customized TV” or “what TV could be”. But then you have to wonder, what is really the benefit, to her and the medium, of calling her product TV?

    Ironically, the rivalry you mention is bidirectional! No one wants their shiny new cool thing called by an old “stodgy” name – and there may be some good reasons for that!

  • Hi Jeff,
    Nice post.

    You can now submit the video you made for freeSpeech from home at SayItToKatie.com.

    I took your suggestion from the Video on the Net conference and set up a page to show people how they can submit their own free speech to Katie. Even though CBS News has no mechanism for allowing people to submit their free speech, we can do it ourselves.

    We can even take it one step further because all the submissions are public, allowing for a conversation to take place based on the free speech submissions.

    It’s a whole new world and this is just one small example of a way to open up the conversation.

  • And the band played on….

    Read and article where Mark Cuban said “anyone who invests in YouTube is an Idiot” — that kinda sums up the attitude of BIG verse small. There is a place for everything – including user generated content – blogs are not newspapers or magazines; vlogs are not TV programs or movies; but that does not diminish their impact or importance.

    The example of technology implemented for video production is exactly the same for most other businesses – the barriers to entry (from a monetary standpoint) are being taken down – once that happens, then it become about the quality of “content” or customer service or some other aspect of a business.

  • ZF

    “…seven producers, camera people, sound people, teleprompter people — plus God know how many more…”

    You’re repeating a very famous observation by Margaret Thatcher, after the BBC came to interview her at 10 Downing Street. A quarter of a century ahead of her time, as usual.

  • Jeff:

    There is a different level of audience expectation at play here.

    No one expects a homemade video on YouTube to look and sound decent. They expect it to be crappy.

    Nobody who watches CBS expects to see crappy production values. They expect — and get — the best possible video and audio and editing and makeup and what have you.

    It’s like comparing McDonald’s with a fancy steak restaurant. Both have their place — it depends on what you want to eat for that particular meal.

    In my business, I deal with people all the time who say “I can write” or “Joe over there has graphics software on his computer so he can do the layout” or “Sally in HR has a camera and she can take the pictures.” And typically, they get what they “pay” for … mediocre writing and design and horrible photography.

    Sometimes, that’s all they need. But when they need something better, they ought to use professionals who know what they are doing.

  • Jeff,

    Great post. I’m glad to see you making your own video. Keep doing it. I’ll check around on how to record good sound directly into your mac….I know it’s possible.

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  • And all twelve of the CBS folk were union, too. Except for management involved. Don’t expect ’em to respond with great enthusiam to your homegrown product. They’ll say it smells of amateurism, and other excuses like that they’ll keep tossing out to keep them from mucking it up in the blogospere. But congrats on getting on that segment! That’s progress in itself. Did they ask you to join NABET? The Writers’ Guild? Would you?

  • Just watched the ABC essay, which was great. But maybe you DO need a union audio dude! That audio was a little, uh, rough.

    Union Dude would: show-up around 10am, sit in the crew van for 2 hours, set-up for about 2 hours, record you for half an hour, then go have lunch at Hooters for the rest of the day. Oh yeah, then send a bill, through some big-a network of course, for at least $1,200. worth of his priceless service.

  • Microphone Suggestions:

    1. Samson C01U USB Mic

    2. Snowball

    i tried the samson at CES and it worked great from my PowerBook. Daniel McVicar uses the Snowball.

  • Jeff – fine post, and another solid example for smart companies to shoot their own video for less. But distribution to news outlets? That’s where we come in at The NewsMarket – offering clients’ media assets to a worldwide base of journalists for broadcast and online news use.

  • Take a bow, nice work :)

  • Safran

    Ditto on the Snowball mic. We have a guy at NECN who edits on a Mac laptop and uses the snowball mic. Sounds better – better – than the “professional” mics.

    Personally, I think people who insist on “broadcast quality” are aiming too low…

  • Fwwank

    What did Amanda edit out at the end of your comments on vlogs? Your mouth moves but there’s no audio. Hmmmm.

  • Just did a Steve Garfield inspired video to Katie Couric about her “free speech” segment. It’s here.

  • Jim

    CBS wanted a tape for the “free speech” segment they show, but then you and they went “back and forth on the script”. Sounds like semi-censored free speech to me. It is not surprising. What else would one expect from a network still wallowing in the sty? The old Tiffany Network sure has become tarnished and continues to shoot themselves in the foot.

  • XCableGuy

    As always Jeff, a great snapshot of the daily clash between “old” and “new” media values. That said, I have to quibble a bit on the head counting. Sure you were able to do the technical work of shooting yourself (not even engaging the quality level discussion here) but the majority of people you counted were in the editorial chain, and while you can argue the bloat factor on that side, it isn’t likely that anyone is going to produce hours of daily content as a “one man band”, is it?

    Don’t jump on me too quickly here, I am as big a fan as anyone of the whole narrowcasting-podcasting-niche audience media revolution as anyone working in Media 0.1, but it would be a little more helpful if the comparison of one person media guerillas versus network megaplexes was more apples-to-apples when it comes to comparing overall scope.

  • jm

    Loved this. Especially liked the notion of “dancing graphics” and “flying Jarvises”. The following suggestion came to mind: CBS and ABCNews.com: now might be a good time to wake up and (try and) hire Chuck Olsen. And no, I’ve never met Chuck Olsen, but I have been admiring his work for the last week or so at AmandaAcrossAmerica. com. It seems to me that as BigMedia trys to cash in on what is truly a grass- roots movement, they will end up just looking silly producing it in their Big(Old)Media way. It won’t look right and it won’t produce the desired effect of capturing those viewers who like “that kind of thing”. Best not only get the right talking head, but make sure that talking head look right.

  • penny

    Katie Couric, the bimbo with the great gums, forgive me if her media ascension, her weathergirl depth isn’t doing it for me. She’s really the terminal story of the MSM – dumb, vacuous and fossilized into the form over substance culture. They really aren’t getting it. But, that’s fine, their financial burn rate is accelerating. They’ll be gone faster.

    Anything is better than what we’ve got now with the MSM.

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