Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Chef's Special
Great TV Photography
Shaken not Stirred

Some brilliant TV Consultant is proposing drastic changes to to make TV News more attractive to the viewers and bring up the ratings of his client stations.

The seminar was called "producing & storytelling with immediacy."

According to a poster going by the moniker SVP at the B-roll-dot-net message board this consultant told the group this....
  • a live shot should NEVER be shot on a tripod.
  • almost everything should be shot off shoulder.
  • admitted that NPPA guys would want to hang him for saying that but the slight movement helps give the story immediacy.
  • nothing in your story should distract the viewer from what you're saying.
  • video should only assist what you're saying but the viewer should be listening to the track.
  • and he said the fancy and creative NPPA stuff only distracts the viewer and gets them lost, leading to them change the channel.

Here's what I think...

First of all I am not a big fan of these consultants who have all the answers and that's to change everything because some small focus group says so.

As far as attracting and holding the viewers by giving them crappy shaky stories with the illusion of 'immediacy', that's bullcrap.

If we're doing stories that are really immediate it will show, if we're not we shouldn't pretend we are. That's cheating the viewer.

I don't by any stretch of the imagination deny that some viewers don't care how TV News looks, just as much as I do care very much how it looks. But I don't think people are turning off good TV in search of crappy work either. The viewers aren't thinking like's too passive.

So I don't quite understand why we all get caught up sometimes in the what is right and what isn't and what is good and what isn't debate. As TV professionals we are in charge of what makes good TV. Just like a car designer knows what makes a great car and a chef knows what makes a great meal.

However, different people have differing tastes so there are many, many different versions of every type of product on the free market all in hopes of optimizing the bottom line.

It's the same in the TV business. We can produce different versions and quality levels of our work but since ours is free to the viewer I think they deserve our best effort every time. But then again, some people like Springer, others like Oprah. (Hell, there might even be a person and a half watching Current TV.)

The harder part in the TV business, unlike restaurants, unlike movies, unlike car sales, and unlike many other businesses with a product that people physically buy is that we have to GUESS what our clients, the viewers want from us. We have to make educated guesses about what is the best and most appetizing content to include in our product, while depending on a small sample of our viewing audience to tell us by electronic tally what they like or don't.

And just like all the varying opinions by all of the TV Pros at B-Roll-dot-net, by many differing age ranges and experience levels, the different viewers out there in TV land have their own tastes.

And we are all viewers too, but much like the chefs who know what is good and bad when mixing food products into tasty delicacies, we are always experimenting with the recipe hoping our peers will like the product, because what our peers like, even though we're sometimes too close to the product, is still a reflection of the quality of our work.

A reputation for quality work over time will always draw customers. But then again always room for fast food...And of course the more people eat in those grease traps on a daily basis, so I may have just daggered my own theory. But even those people would surely eat fancy for free and that's how TV is given to 'em.

I don't care what techniques are used to tell a story, I just don't want it to be jarring to me as a viewer. If the video or editing have the viewer asking, 'What was that...Why did that sound funny...That looked strange'...Then the viewer is missing out on the story.

The viewer may not know why something felt wrong, but the viewers know. It's like eating a meal not cooked properly. Sometimes it's exactly what the cook intended but it's just not palatable by anyone.

So there's certainly a lot of gray area here and I don't think a single TV News Professional out there is in a position to say what is exactly right and what is exactly wrong.

100 of us could take a sample of 25 stories and maybe agree that 5 of them are perfect 16 of them are just OK and the other 4 are just plain crap.

And a different group of 100 people would likely give a totally different analysis.

In regards to a failing newscast I've always been more in favor of subtle changes over time to not scare away the viewers you do have and to allow your newscast time to develop a reputation for great news. And that's what it's all about in the community of TV News viewers.

People watch the station that has a reputation, that their parents watched, that they are familiar and comfortable with, and that they hear good things about. I think ratings, or a lack of, has less to do with the actual day to day product and more to do with the quality of work and the relative continuity over a long period of time.

Using another food analogy, think about TV News in terms of your favorite eatery. If they dumped your favorite menu item, how likely would you be to go back to that place as often?

One of my favorite bi-monthly hangouts got rid of a favorite food of mine and I haven't been back in 2 months.

Similarly if a station plays switch-a-roo with the anchors and reporters or the presentation styles it may be hard on their existing customer base, and they are the most important.Now that I'm way off the photography aspect of this thread let me bring it back.

I don't think that this consultant and his mandate of shoulder only liveshots is going to help any station any more than going all VJ or hiring Katie Couric.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Consultants are full of crap. Every time they show up at the station the "research" shows something different and they try to get us to make sweeping changes. I guess that's how they stay in business, eh.
Ironically, my station recently got the results of more "research" and learned that viewers want nppa style storytelling. They even brought somebody in to teach the reporters how to do that style.