Search DC to White Light

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Great Sponsor Reveal...

Well, I just invested fifty-eight seconds in a spot…to finally see the name of the advertiser.

Why did I stick around till the end when 99 percent of the time I just zip past or change channels?  Because it jogged my mind – that I wanted to write this installment of DC to White Light.

It starts with one or two people in an agency “creative” group.  One thinks (or says to the other) “Let’s create some mystery.  Let’s tell a story and let folks try to figure out what it’s about.”

“Yeah,” he/she thinks or hears back from his/her creative partner, “we get this story line going about [place product here] and no one can figure it out till the end and we super the name and fade out.”

Then he/she suggests that the thing be done without ever revealing the sponsor, ignorant of 317 of the CFR and 73.1212 of the FCC rules, “It’s a tease.  We run it for awhile then finally we air the version with the sponsor payoff,” but settles for that closing reveal in each spot.

He/she/they take it up the creative the ladder, through legal, to the client – who has to be talked out of the logo being up for the entire spot – out to production and onto the air.  And what’s important to them?  The reveal.  It’s like they’re the first ones to think of it.

Get a creative life, will you?  Said another way, just how narcissistic are you or your client to think that 99.999% of the world actually cares enough about the connection you’re trying to make between Iowa-raised corn and your cereal to stick around, watch the end and muse to themselves, “Wow, I never realized that.”

I’m not suggesting that these folks are trying to HIDE the sponsor name altogether. They’re not out there pitching a POV or concept without being discovered.  I have a “warm spot” for those guys, but it’s not of this world.  The folks I’m talking about are just trying to be cute.  Inventive.  As if doing something that’s been done tens of times before is inventive. 

“Not with this product.  This is a first.”

One more time with the narcissism.  Very few people care.  If you want to sell something, be upfront about it and show me how that product is a hero.  How does it make my life better.  I’ll buy it.  But if you’re playin’ hide the logo with me, well, guess what…the zip button gets punched and I’ll never even see what the product is.  That’s a tough one to explain to a client.

It’s a zip/zap age.  And people are in a hurry.  Want to use that surprise reveal technique?  Do it as a ten second preroll online.  Ask a question or show a situation then show me the product as the answer.  Your answer will beat me to the “skip” button and I’ll get your message.  Make it :15 and I’ll bet I’m faster on the draw with the remote than you are with your reveal.

And one final thing:  When it does work, it only works once.

“Dummy.  That’s what we want.  The second time someone sees it, they automatically recall the sponsor.”

I don’t think so.  You may find some of that but you’ll find more zippers and skippers than recallers.

One last time.  As an appeal.  Show me the product solving a problem for me.  Don’t hide its name.  I’m in.

This blog brought to you by…

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Dreaded Public File

I’m choosing now to talk about broadcasters’ Public Files.  Why?   It’s renewal year for radio stations.  Some are already way down the path to another eight year cycle.  Others are busy trying to figure out the rules, some calling me to ask, “Now when do I run the renewal announcements?”

I’m not a lawyer.  I don’t even play one on TV…and I don’t give legal advice.  However, the programming, operations and tech sides of the business are closely intertwined with the legal world.

Let me say, first off, that broadcasting is the only business where companies have to help their competition.  They even have to help their detractors put them out of business.  What?  C’mon.  If you’re with a broadcast entity, you know the drill.  If you’re not, check out the FCC’s publication, The Public and Broadcasting

Everything you need to know – including how to find a “petition to deny” the renewal application of a station.  Anyone can do it.  Pick a station.  Go in and ask to see the public file.  Everyone has a right…you don’t have to identify yourself and you don’t need a reason.  The station even has to make copies for you at a reasonable price.  The public file has to contain all of the following (links are to the section of the publication that references the topic): 
If you find any of the “folders” empty or lacking, you can go after the station for remediation – from fixing the problem to additional programming all the way to denial of a station’s license.

For many stations, the files coast quietly in a drawer somewhere, heavily guarded by the receptionist or possibly by the local librarian (under some conditions the files may be kept off site).  Seldom does someone ask to see them.  They’re most often checked by FCC field inspectors.  In fact, violations are a major source of revenue for the commission.  Many times the violations are for inaccessibility rather than lack of content.  Witness this FCC Notice of Apparent Liability.   (If you stop reading here, at least get a cup of coffee and click the preceding link.  It’s great reading!) 

Here are a couple more courtesy of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, with whom my company has NO relationship:

So, at license renewal time, the public file becomes extremely important.  And right about now, stations are scrambling to make sure everything’s in order – quarterly issues and programming reports, EEO materials, even the filing of records that you aired announcements telling people that they have the right to come see the records! 

It becomes a little panicky and you see a lot of jumpy and tense station management and employees.  In fact, walking into a radio station in the next couple of months and asking to see the public file is a sure way to send a GM to a cardiac specialist.

The public file is definitely integral in the license renewal process, both TV and radio.  Beyond that, there are other elements related to renewal – they deal with whether the station is actually compliant with all the rules.  Here are a few that are often found “out of tolerance” by inspectors:

Tower location!  You have to be kidding, right?  Nope.  I’ve taken the trusty GPS to more than one station and found the actual location off by more than a few seconds.  Yes, even being on the east pylon on Chicago’s Sears/Willis Tower is different from being on the west pylon.  Time to file for a minor change.
Power.  C’mon.  If you’re licensed 10kw, run 10kw.  If you do the math on 10.6kw, which is out of tolerance, you’ll see the increased coverage is almost immeasurable.  If you’re running 20kw and licensed for 10, hey, you’re probably really interfering with another station.
Pattern.  If you’re a directional AM, check the monitoring points.
EAS.  With all the brouhaha about EAS in the past year, if a station’s system isn’t working at this point, they deserve the fines
Logs.  Is there a designated chief operator and assistant?  Is he/she reviewing the logs?
Tower lights.  Duh.
Station ID’s.  Again, we’re not lawyers here.  But remember this:  Call Letters & Location.  That’s the legal ID.  Not call letters then “Boise’s home for sports” then location.  Check the rules or call your lawyer.  Oh yeah – if you’re WXXX-FM, don’t ID WXXX!
If you’re having technical problems, more than likely you can file for an STA (special temporary authorization).  Do it.  It keeps you legal.  You can operate “at variance” with the license till you get the problem fixed…and it’s legal.  If someone checks the file – including an inspector – you’re legal.

Now a couple of parting comments about the public file:  The whole idea of “…public interest, convenience and necessity…” in the broadcast licensing process is based on the scarcity of frequencies/channels available in the radio spectrum.  Even though there are thousands of media outlets now, it’s still true that not everyone can have their own radio or television broadcast station. 

Some pirates seem to think otherwise but, in fact, it’s physically impossible.  As a consequence, a broadcaster does have some level of obligation to the rest of us who have abdicated our claim to any frequencies in order for them to be able to operate their station(s).  Some may say that just playing music that listeners want is enough.  The Nicholas Johnsons of the world will demand that entire dayparts be devoted to needs and problems of the community.

The public file does force stations to select some issues to deal with.  It makes them think about what’s out there beyond the audio console and video switcher.  In that respect, it’s a reasonable idea.  Are there better approaches?  Absolutely.  Competition can go a long way.  Stations which identify major problems in a community often lead other station to cover the same story or to do some level of investigative reporting on other topics. 

Linked coverage, stations covering a topic superficially then carrying it over to an HD2 channel or to web pages or streams provide significant coverage while, at the same time, retaining their main channel for more general programming.  Viewers can even sign up for RSS feeds on selected topics.

And about the file, itself:  The FCC is considering requiring all stations to publish the public file online.  It would allow anyone and everyone to access it via the web.  I don’t see the problem.  Sure, everyone can see it.  So what?  And there’s an upside.  Scan an item and stuff it into an online file and it’s there.  Barring crashes, it doesn’t get lost.  There’s a log file that will tell everyone when the item was posted.  Look, if the rule is there, compliance is mandatory.  If there’s some set of steps or a procedure that helps you do that, what the heck.  As for everyone seeing it?  Let ‘em look.  Give a staff member “ownership” of it and challenge them to shine.*

One last time, let me say that if you’re a station operator and you have legal questions, call a (your) communications lawyer.  Call your tech consultants to get you “legal” on the operating side.  One more thing:  File on time.  And, if you haven’t read Red Quinlan’s The Hundred Million Dollar Lunch, why not?

*While they’re shining – or not – remember that regardless who you give ownership to, it’s the station's ownership who is responsible as far as the FCC is concerned.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Writers in the Sky

Huh?  Isn’t it Riders

Not this time.  I’m writing…and I’m in the sky.  Now, this is no big deal given the technology available.  But here’s what is amazing:  It’s a Southwest flight.  You know – those “line up coz we ain’t got seat assignments/peanuts here, we gotcher peanuts” guys that ferry 737s around.

In the past month, I’ve been on two other airlines, neither offering WiFi service.  Yet here I am on this little plane checking out the email and even talking to one of my servers…for five bucks.

Is it cable modem download speed?  Nope?  But it’s fast enough.  At least it keeps up with my typing.

I guess what’s important here is that in the tradition of Herb Kelleher, Southwest gets it.  Another carrier I travel on has embarked on a crusade to remove, cover, or change the plug of every outlet in the terminal.  Wish I’da bought stock in Graybar or whatever company makes outlet caps.  I’d be super rich from all the covered outlets.  Southwest?  I sat at the gate and plugged in as did about 20 other people.  That’s a perk on a Friday night when you need to get a last minute order out – or in.

Did I mention that I checked a bag (49.5 pounds) and carried one on, along with a set of wheels.  Didn’t pay a penny more.

And we left on time.  Southwest has a habit of that.  Somehow, they’re able to turn the plane around faster than the other guys, even the guys with the little RJ’s.  Go figure.  Let me add that there’s a blizzard going on in Chicago, our destination.  But they managed to get this thing in the air as scheduled and we’re due in on time.  I’ll let you know (if I don’t get this posted before we land).

I said earlier that Southwest “gets it.”  By that, I mean they get it as to what’s really important to travelers.  Then add to that the friendliness.  I won’t go into detail.  If you haven’t flown Southwest, you won’t understand.  What you will understand, though, is the attitude of their marketing.  Call Southwest for a reservation and you’ll hear, “You may be able to find a lower fare by booking online…”  Call one of the competition and you hear the same thing, but worded negatively, “Telephone reservations are subject to additional charges compared to online booking.”  Yes. Both say the same thing.  So which camp has the smart people working for it?

Back to the WiFi.  When you open it up, you can see inflight deals.  This isn’t an onslaught of popups.  It’s a carefully filtered list of offers and coupons, many of which are from establishments in the destination city.  Discount at a steak house and similar offers…and they close the circle – the redemption is/can be through your mobile device.  Yeah.  You do the WiFi, computer or phone, and then show your phone at the establishment and you’re saving money.  Yes, it’s a bolt-on from a third party provider.  But, the doggoned thing works – for ME.

I have to say, I’m a pretty cynical.  Not much impresses me.  Certainly, very little in the tech world does.  But this works.  Sure, it’s good for them.  But it’s good for me, too.  You get the feeling that the marketing folks actually test this stuff before they put it out there.  And one of the questions they ask is, “Is this helping YOU?”

I don’t see that with other carriers.  In fact, the opposite is true.  I’m sure they’d love it if we were all exactly the same height and weight, traveled with the same bags, had the same needs and, well, you get it.  One of them has napkins that say, “Planes change.  People don’t.  Our values are your values.”  Pure hype.  With 200 people on board, that’s 200 sets of values and they can’t all be the same.  The Southwest guys understand the differences.  They understand wants and needs.  Why, you’d think they were consumers, themselves.

So, Southwest, thanks!  For paying attention.  For letting me get some real work done on this trip.  Oh.  Gotta go.  The flight attendant just gave me two bags of honey roasted peanuts.  Time to stop writing and start eating.  After all, I have my priorities.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Do you Care What's Comin' Out the Other End?

Most of us in this crazy thing we try to call a business work on delivering video, audio, and their related emotions to remote locations.  I’ve talked about production values and their influence on the overall message but I want to talk about receiver locations and guessing – guessing on those locations, the ones of our followers, then guessing on their moods, their friends, viewing/listening conditions, time of day, even their blood alcohol levels.

Yeah, you gotta guess about it all because, somehow, you have to use it to calibrate your thinking.  What am I talking about here?  OK, here’s the “duh” version.  Valentine’s Day.  What content do you offer.  Go for the goulish?  Ripping hearts out and roasting them on a Smokey Joe™?  I don’t think so.

Now, if you start paring it down, you get more granular.  (Is that the department of redundancy department?)  You start asking about which love story to tell.  Or about which love song to play.   Then you ask about timing.  You think about followers as individuals as opposed to this monolithic group, all with the same feelings.

The bottom line is, you can try to figure out your audience really is – make that are.  You create an average and shoot for that.  You can treat them as individuals, too.  But if you don’t have separate channels to deliver different versions to each individual, you’re kinda stuck.
Sometimes you luck out.  You can upload for Youtube, Hulu, Brightcove and others along with MP4, H264 and WMV players.  Then you can offer additional versions for iPhones, Android phones, and, hey, if you wanna, broadcast TV.  NBC Sports and The NFL are taking a big leap by offering the Superbowl online for the first time.

In doing so, they’ve recognized that they have different channels…and they’re delivering content tailored to each medium and, in some cases, to specific devices.  Son-of-a-gun.  They broke the code.  The found out they could deliver different messages and they’re doing it.  It caters directly to their audiences.  Note the plural.  The rabid fan will have multiple screens open alongside the broadcast.  Heck, so will the rabid gambler, but you didn’t read that here.  But the point is that they’re offering multiple angles, replays, facts, stats and sideline views – if you want them.  Cannibalize the broadcast feed?  No way.

Of course, not every event has all of those channels to the viewer.  You can open them but the cost may be prohibitive.  In these cases, you just have to guess at what’s out there because there’s only one medium and one channel reaching your audience.

Flashback:  once upon a time, I had a phenomenal idea.  I mean brilliant!  I sure thought so and I convinced my boss and his boss that it was.  We’d do research to find out what preferences viewers had in adjusting their television sets.  (Yes.  We called them television sets.)  The plan was that we’d find out what they did to “misadjust” their sets and we’d predistort our audio and video in the other direction.  That way, our products – these were commercials – would appear as they should on the screen.

Well, we actually did some research.  At a fine little strip mall in Bloomingdale, IL, we found out that, at least in our slice of the world, people adjusted their television sets way around to the red and with much too much saturation.  It may have been the “Hey, I paid for color, I’m watching color,” thinking along with the dislike of the green component in flesh tones (and that’s not just Caucasian…green seems to be objectionable to viewers in just about all skin colors.  Martians, feel free to take issue) but that’s what we found.  And on the audio side, we found what nearly anyone drawn to this writing would guess – the smiling equalizer…boosted lows and highs with the midrange down about 6-9dB compared to either end.

And the plan?  Well, that should be pretty evident.  Rotate all of our materials around to the green (we figured about 15 degrees.)  Back down the saturation about 10 percent.  Then re-EQ the audio to a frown so that the receiver’s “smile” yielded an overall flat line.

Anyone see the problem yet?  Fortunately, my boss and I figured it out before we went any further…if people want more red, they want more red – in everything.  Including their corn flakes package.  Including their double cheeseburger.  If they wanted lots of highs and lows in the audio, well, they wanted it.
So what do you do?  You may have your own ideas…I’d love to hear them.  Mine is, shoot it “normal”, edit it “normal”, distribute it “normal”.  If Mary Elizabeth Dudenclaber decides she wants more red, let her add it.  If she wants green, let her have that, too.  It’s her call.  At the same time, you still have to think.  Old folks will remember “the day” when nothing went out without looking at it on a black & white monitor.  And most places still listen to a mono mix before releasing the content.  That translates to thinking ahead about viewer/listener conditions. 

Bottom line is, you have to know your audience and know your channels.  So many possibilities.  You put it out there in 1080i, full bandwidth. Top notch quality.  Twenty percent of the people are watching on receivers that can handle it, directly off air.  Another 40 percent are watching on cable.  Your 1080i is transcoded to 720i and is being pushed through a bunch of cable as a QAM signal where, at the receiver end, 80 percent of that 40 percent (32 percent for those of you in East Bumquat) feed the signal to a cable box and the rest feed to an integral receiver card or other processor.  And don’t forget the issues created by writing to a DVR’s hard disc and then playing it back.  Then there’s the group of satellite…and on I go covering all the ways of delivering.  Downconverted, upconverted, 16:9, 4:3, limited, “calmed”, 8VSB, QAM, NTSC, you name it.  Don’t forget cell phones, PDA’s and Youtube.  And it’s not just the end format, it’s everything that goofy set of numbers had to go through to get to the viewing screen.

So give it all some thought.  In many cases, You Don’t Know.  But if you do a little digging and thinking, you might figure it out.  If you know your audience, know their preferences and their preferred channels and modes, then you can try to match their preferences.  But don’t leave the color bar chart at home.