In the studios of NBC News

How To Create Cost Effective Television

Posted August 23, 2017
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In the late 1990s, I entered into a 5-year deal with The BBC to train their staff to shoot and edit all their own material on small video cameras. (This was before iPhones).

When I first met The BBC, they had 64 betacam crews to cover all of the UK. When I finished, they were able to field 1400 cameras every day. That was a big change.  

Of course, the techonlogy to do this was already there, but the resistance was palpable, as was the fear.  

Before they would unleash me on the staff, I had to present to the Board of Governors. That is the group that effectively runs The BBC, somewhat like a Board of Directors for an American corporation.  The board for the BBC, a with any corporate board, was made up of very successful people from the world of finance and corporations. 

I explained to them that the technology at the time, small HD video cameras and laptop editing, was going to make what I was proposing inevitable.  

One of the board members asked me a question:

"And when do you believe this change will come?"

I took a pause.

"When all of you are dead," I said."Because you are the only thing holding this back."

Remarkably, they signed my contract.

But what I had said was true.

The technology was all in place to make the radical changes that the technology itself called for, in fact, mandated. 

One of my favorite qutoes is from Andy Grove, founder and first CEO of Intel:  "Listen to the technology. The technology will tell you what to do."

But people often dont' do that. instead, they take a look at the new technology and try to jam it into old ways of working.  This is a half-hearted compromise, and it generally leads to death and destruction.  New technologies mean a complete change in the way that the world works, not a half-hearted attempt to placate the 'new' stuff.

In the Industrial Revolution, factories were driven by massive steam engines. The steam engine had replaced water-powered drives and steam power was the singular piece of tech that created the Industrial Revolution in the 19th Century.

Each factory had one massive steam engine that provided all the power.  The steam engine spun a great wheel that was then attached to an incredibly complex arrangement of wheels, pulleys and rods that all spun overhead in each factory.  To power the machines that actually did the work, another pulley system would attach the specific machine to the spinning rods above.  

It was compelx but it worked.

You might think that the arrival of electricity towards the end of the 19th Century would have spelt the end of the giant steam engine and its complex pulley and rod system.  It didn't.  People were comforable with the one giant steam engine. Those few factories that replaced their giant steam engines with giant electrical engines failed.  It was an expensive investment for nothing.

The real transformaitional power of the electrive engine was that each machine in the factory got its own small electrical engine. It no longer needed to be tethered to the giant steam engine. Now that worked, but it would take nearly 30 years for this transfomation t take place.

The small electrrical engines were there the whole time, but the people running the factories were steeped and very comfortable in the past, and it worked, sort of.

30 years is an interesting number. It's the length of a generation.

When the Israelites left Egypt, they wandered in the desert for forty years. They didn't do that because they were lost. They did it because that was how long it would take for everyone with a memory of slavery to die off.  Even Moses was not allowed to enter.

Television today is made the way those old steam powered factories were run - one giant central source of manufacturing.  But TV networks are still run by old people.

In thirty years or so (or fewer), the networks, if they are still around, will be run by people who lived on their iPhones and Snapchat.  I don't think they'll continue to make the content the way it is made now. 

But maybe we don't all have to wait that long either.  


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