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Case Study: ‘Globe Trekker’ and How a Deficit Financed Travel Series Became a Winner for PBS and Pilot Productions (1/2)

February 19, 2011

Is there a way for Factual producers to succeed the old-fashioned way: in U.S. public television?

In this week’s Case Study: How the Globe Trekker series blazed a path to a respectable living for Pilot Productions.

At History Makers and then at Real Screen, we met with Ian Cross, Pilot Productions’ founder and managing director.

Ian began his career as a cadet reporter at the Canberra Times, covering Canberra’s mix of small town goings on and high parliamentary politics.

He went on to serve ABC Australia as a foreign correspondent, and later produced Factual series for Fox and other channels.

This is part 1 of a two-part post on Ian’s Globe Trekker: its history, distribution, audience and business model. 

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About Pilot Productions 

  • Company launched in 1990
  • 2011 turnover: $6 +/- million
  • Staff: 10 employees
  • Contract: 12
  • Offices: London (HQ) and LA

About Globe Trekker

  • 15 seasons
  • Format: 1 hour (58 minutes)
    • Show: 52 minutes
    • Short form: 6 minutes
    • 13 episodes / season
    • Library: 350 +/- hours

Budget

  • $220 +/-  hour
  • Season: $3 million +/-

U.S. Distribution

  • Travel Channel as Lonely Planet
  • PBS since 2000 as Globe Trekker

PBS Format

  • “The U.S. public television 58 minute format is seamless and advertiser-free” says Ian Cross
  • “It’s great for ancillary and international sales”
  • “Programs created for cable are made in ‘acts’ because of the ad breaks, whereas a PBS show is not interrupted by commercial pods, and is a seamless narrative. That realy appeals to me as a producer”

Distribution & Scheduling

  • Globe Trekker is distributed by APT (American Public Television) to 300+ stations
  • “We are present in the Top 25 U.S. markets and 98% of the entire PBS market”
  • APT earns dues from public TV stations that subscribe to its service 
  • Stations are licensed for unlimited runs for a year
  • There is no common carriage of APT-distributed programs
  • Globe Trekker is scheduled on most stations at 9PM on Sunday or Tuesday
  • Episodes are stripped on KCET Los Angeles, which recently dropped out of the PBS system over a fee dispute
  • “APT’s value is that it has a trusted relationship with station programmers”
    • The PBS feed is limited to certain prime time hours and days
    • Station programmers look to APT and other sources to fill the remainder of their schedule
    • According to Cross “The programmers have the power in the system.”

Audience

  • “On Public TV, we earn a .9 rating, and up to 2 million viewers per week” says Ian Cross
  • “When we were on cable with the Travel Channel, we earned  a .1 or a .2 at first, rising to a peak of .4”

We Asked a Programmer at a Major PBS Station Why He Values Globe Trekker?

  • Globe Trekker features an inquiring and spontaneous host (from a small set of hosts who rotate) who experiences a journey through a destination with a “blue highways,” more back-packing than hotel spirit.”
  • “The adventures are not pat, the pacing is sprightly and the indigenously-themed world music is propulsive.”
  • “The hosts are at times eccentric or at least slightly quirky and appealing characters, they bring a sense of humor, and it is clear that there is no promotional element to their focus and destinations common to travel-related programs.”

Next in Part 2/2:

  • Revenue model
  • Takeaways

8 Ways to Create an Unscripted Cable Hit: Lessons from 2010

February 12, 2011

For our Real Screen 2011 panel, we gave AETN’s Don Robert 5 minutes to nail the question of the day:  What are the common elements that go into making an unscripted cable hit?

by Don Robert
Senior Vice President of Research, AETN

 We looked at some of the top unscripted series on cable in 2010 and came up with 8 key observations:

  1. It is still important to BE FIRST with an idea.  Deadliest Catch, Pawn Stars, Intervention, Project Runway — they all looked and felt different and unique when they first hit the tube. If you’re first with a great concept and execute it well, you can have a hit for years as these shows have demonstrated.
  2. If you can’t be first, then be BEST — which usually means you need to find the best characters.  Billy wasn’t TV’s first exterminator, but his larger-than-life personality made him #1 in the category. Kat von D wasn’t the first tattoo artist and Teresa wasn’t the first housewife, but they are both break-out characters that have lifted their respective shows to big successes.
  3. KEEP IT SIMPLE.  A concept that is easy to understand and that resonates with viewers, such as the transformative process of losing weight in Heavy, the universal theme of man vs. nature in River Monsters.
  4. Many of today’s top hits were a result of picking LOW-HANGING FRUIT — meaning, they were just expanding on an idea that already had success. Before Snooki, there was the episode titled “I’m a Jersey Shore Girl” on MTV’s True LifeDog the Bounty Hunter was first profiled on the A&E anthology series Take This Job. But be careful with your picks:  For example, Jeff Dunham had multiple hit specials for Comedy Central, but his show failed as a weekly series.
  5. Before you cancel a successful show that has fallen into decline, ask if there is a way to RE-INVENT or re-energize it. In 2010, the long-running but fading American Chopper came back with a vengeance when the father vs. son theme took on a more intense level.  But you also need to know when to fold.  Without Billy Mays, Pitchmen lost their strongest character and the show fell apart.
  6. The vast majority of today’s top hits feature REAL PEOPLE, who may be larger-than-life but who are in many ways relatable to the average viewer.  The Situation, Alaskan crab fisherman Sig Hansen, and pickers Mike and Frank.  The only celebrities who tend to make it are ones like Gene Simmons, stars with loyal fan bases and who aren’t afraid to reveal candid and fascinating aspects of their lives.
  7. SEIZE THE DAY … Friday and Saturday, that is. Viewing levels may be a little more than 10% lower than the other five nights of the week, but when you factor out the Big 4 broadcast network audience, the number of viewers available to cable is roughly the same on Friday and Saturday as it is on the other five nights.  But you have to give them a reason to watch!  Some networks are discovering the value of launching hit shows on these less competitive nights, including Travel Channel and their top show Ghost Adventures, which airs on Fridays, and E!, with one of their biggest shows, The Soup.
  8. And finally, a key observation is that many of today’s top shows on all of U.S. cable are UNSCRIPTED. Look at 2010’s Top 10 networks among Adults 18-54, which encompasses both A18-49 and A25-54 demos.  There were actually 11 networks in the top 10 due to a tie at #10.
  TOP 10 NETWORKS  
  ADULTS 18-54  
  STABLE OR UP DECLINING
  #2 ESPN #1 USA (-11%)
  #5 HISTORY #3 TNT (-6%)
  #6 A&E #4 TBS (-4%)
  #8 DISCOVERY #7 FX (-11%)
  #9 ABC FAMILY #10 SYFY (-11%)
  #10 FOOD  
  • Six networks were stable or up vs. 2009
  • Meanwhile, five networks were down
  • Interestingly, four of the five “down” networks do not have a single unscripted series in primetime
  • However, 4 of the 6 networks that are stable or up are loaded with unscripted programs

In 2010, if you look at cable’s top 25 original prime series (scripted or unscripted), you’ll find that 16 are unscripted shows–about two-thirds of the top hits among both the A18-49 and A25-54 demos. 

And compared to three years ago, there are measurably more unscripted series among the top.

  UNSCRIPTED    
  % TOP 25 SHOWS    
  A18-49 Shows % Top 25
  2007 12 48%
  2010 16 64%
       
  A25-54 Shows % Top 25
  2007 10 40%
  2010 16 64%
       

The Big Takeaway
Not only is unscripted programming here to stay, IT IS HOTTER THAN EVER!!

About Don Robert
Don is Senior Vice President of Research at AETN. He and his team are responsible for all audience and consumer insights supporting the programming and marketing teams, including the scheduling and PR departments, for A&E, Lifetime, History, Bio, Lifetime Movie Network and History International. Click here for Don’s bio.

The Real Screen Panel: Is 2 the New 5?
Designed to demystify the numbers game for producers and programming execs, this session will take a look at various metrics designed to measure programming success. How do network grades stack up against traditional ratings? What are broadcasters really looking for in a program when rating it? When is a program that doesn’t measure up in traditional ratings pass muster with a broadcaster.

As well as Don Robert, the expert and entertaining panelists were:

  • David Poltrack, Chief Research Officer, CBS Corporation
  • Gary Auerbach, Founder, Go Go Luckey Entertainment
  • Jo Holz, SVP Client Research Initiatives, The Nielsen Company
  • Deborah Adler Myers, EVP & General Manager, Science Channel
  • Peter Hamilton, DocumentaryTelevision.com, Moderator

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SPEAKING ENGAGEMENTS

AIDC
Australian International Documentary Conference
1-4 March 2011, Adelaide, Australia
A hit at Real Screen 2011!
Now the workshop with A&E’s Stephen Harris hits the road!
Getting Your Concept to the Side of the Bus:
A Network Insider’s Guide to
Greenlighting a Factual Program
Improve your chances of success as you learn what’s inside the minds of network executives as they take pitches, buy in to them, promote the strongest concepts to their colleagues, budget productions, and fight for the final sign off. 

And a message to friends and colleagues attending AIDC: Contact us now to get on the calendar!

————————–

CALL FOR ENTRIES

The Spring 2011 CINE Golden Eagle Competition is open to submissions.  Entries submitted by February 15 will receive a discount; all entries are due by March 1, 2011.

The CINE Golden Eagle Competition, the prestigious, half-century-old competition based on peer recognition of excellence in film, television, and new media, accepts a broad range of professional, independent and student productions in a variety of categories including documentary, fiction, history, arts, science, new media, and commercial spots, and much more. 

Series submitted for the Golden Eagle Award can now receive special recognition for Excellence in Series Television. Recognized series from 2010 include ESPN’s 30 for 30, Discovery Channel’s Life and History’s WWII in HD.

Past recipients of the CINE Golden Eagle Award include Mel Brooks, Steven Spielberg, Ken Burns, Ron Howard, Mike Nichols, Albert Maysles, Martin Scorsese, and many others.

Those who enter by the early bird deadline on February 15 will receive a discount. All entries are due by March 1. For more information Visit www.cine.org or call the CINE office at 202 785 1136

U.S. Cable Networks 2010 Scorecard: Who’s Hot? Who’s Not!

February 9, 2011

How are they doing?

John Morse, president of the research firm Byron Media continues his quarterly snapshot of how the top U.S. factual channels gain or lose prime time viewers year-to-year.

Click here to see John’s 3Q’10 report.

Our list is not apples-to-apples:

  • It includes channels that are dedicated to Docs and Unscripted, for example Nat Geo and Discovery
  • And others that schedule a mix of Docs and Reality with Scripted (e.g., A&E and MTV)
  • Many channels that schedule Factual are unrated, or were not rated in ‘09

Quantity Not Quality

  • Most ad-supported channels sell media based on their target demos
  • However the quarterly ‘average prime time’ is a very useful measure of scale and performance

Average Quarterly Primetime Viewing / 4Q’10 versus 4Q’09 

  4Q ’10 4Q ’09 Change  %
ID: INVEST. DISCOVERY            358            198 160 81%
HISTORY      1,246            920 326 35%
MTV            782            585 197 34%
MILITARY            122              99 23 23%
DISC SCIENCE            183            151 32 21%
HISTORY INTL            154            131 23 18%
BRAVO            750            662 88 13%
TLC            910            872 38 4%
BET            586            562 24 4%
OXYGEN            348            341 7 2%
TRAVEL            370            366 4 1%
E!            539            536 3 1%
BIO            140            140 0 0%
NAT GEO CH            350            353 (3) -1%
WETV            230            235 (5) -2%
HGTV            931            973 (42) -4%
ANIMAL PLANET            407            429 (22) -5%
DISCOVERY            815            860 (45) -5%
FOOD            819            866 (47) -5%
TRU TV            749            814 (65) -8%
SPIKE            756            826 (70) -8%
SYFY            907         1,012 (105) -10%
STYLE 135            155 (20) -13%
A&E            986         1,238 (252) -20%
VH1            348            506 (158) -31%
Factual Networks      13,921      13,830 91 1%

Nielsen Media Research, 4Q 2009 / 2010

Highlights

  • Largest audience (‘000)
    • History (1,246), A&E (986), HGTV (931), TLC (910) and SyFy (907)
    • Discovery (815) and MTV (782) were in the Top 5 in 3Q’10 and dropped out in 4Q
  • Growth (%)
    • ID: Investigation Discovery (81%), History (35%), MTV (34%), Discovery Military (23%) and Discovery Science (21%)
    • The success of ID and Discovery’s digi-nets is due to smart programming leveraged by an expanding distribution universe
    • VH1 is in the basement (-31%). But remember: the VH1 team developed 2010’s top Reality hit Jersey Shore, which airs on sister channel MTV
    • A&E’s steep drop is due mainly to the eroding audience for its drama, Criminal Minds. A&E is recovering in 1Q’11
  • History’s audience grew by 326,000 viewers; that’s massive for a fully-distributed channel

The Factual Bucket: 13.9 million and Growing!

  • DocumentaryTelevision.com’s bucket of 25 Basic channels attracted on average 13.9 million viewers in prime time in 4Q’10
  • That’s a year-to-year increase of 1% for the Factual genre
  • The 3Q year-to-year increase was 7%

————————–

SPEAKING ENGAGEMENTS

AIDC
Australian International Documentary Conference
1-4 March 2011, Adelaide, Australia
A hit at Real Screen 2011!
Now the workshop with A&E’s Stephen Harris hits the road!
Getting Your Concept to the Side of the Bus:
A Network Insider’s Guide to
Greenlighting a Factual Program
Improve your chances of success as you learn what’s inside the minds of network executives as they take pitches, buy in to them, promote the strongest concepts to their colleagues, budget productions, and fight for the final sign off. 

And a message to friends and colleagues attending AIDC:
Contact us now to get on the calendar!

————————–

CALL FOR ENTRIES

The Spring 2011 CINE Golden Eagle Competition is open to submissions.  Entries submitted by February 15 will receive a discount; all entries are due by March 1, 2011.

The CINE Golden Eagle Competition, the prestigious, half-century-old competition based on peer recognition of excellence in film, television, and new media, accepts a broad range of professional, independent and student productions in a variety of categories including documentary, fiction, history, arts, science, new media, and commercial spots, and much more. 

Series submitted for the Golden Eagle Award can now receive special recognition for Excellence in Series Television. Recognized series from 2010 include ESPN’s 30 for 30, Discovery Channel’s Life and History’s WWII in HD.

Past recipients of the CINE Golden Eagle Award include Mel Brooks, Steven Spielberg, Ken Burns, Ron Howard, Mike Nichols, Albert Maysles, Martin Scorsese, and many others.

Those who enter by the early bird deadline on February 15 will receive a discount. All entries are due by March 1. For more information Visit www.cine.org or call the CINE office at 202 785 1136

Network Deliverables: Tape trends? Audio. Archive tips. How to avoid pitfalls! (3/3)

February 5, 2011

By David Kaplan

David Kaplan led the Quality Control team for A&E Television Networks for the last eight years.

He has worked with “hundreds of producers on thousands of hours of programs in dozens of evolving formats.”  

In the 3rd of a 3-part post, David continues his expert commentary on:

  • Leading tape and audio formats
  • Dealing with a variety of archive formats
  • Closed Captioning
  • Recommended practices for producers to ensure that their Deliverables are trouble free

Click here for Part 1 and Part 2.

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What are the current leading tape Deliverables?

For cable nets using HD, they are Sony’s HDCam SR and HDCam. The SR version carries 12 channels of audio, so it’s ideal for international work.

  • I haven’t made a study of this, but my guesstimate is that Sony has more than 50% of the market
  • It is followed by Panasonic’s DVCProHD and some D5 (mostly for films and offnet series)

Pure digital delivery, such as the systems being used for commercials, should become efficient enough to handle the much larger sizes for actual program segments in the near future.

  • Sony’s XDCam HD optical disc is also being recognized as the first realistic digital deliverable format. It can currently handle a one-hour program’s worth of data

And Audio Deliverables?

Audio is relatively uncomplicated. It has settled into varying file formats that are delivered on DVD

  • These are led by broadcast wav, .aif and Protools projects with embedded time code matching the program original
  • These files are fairly easily imported by today’s edit systems. They facilitate reformatting and repurposing
  • With the rise in popularity of DSLR’s, the main thing is to record the audio at the same frame rate as the video frame rate

What are the evolving standards for ingesting NTSC and PAL archive material for program editing?

If your doc contains a lot of archival 25fps PAL material, then shoot new interviews and material at the matching frame rate of either 25p or 50i, and edit at the same rate

The same goes for 30fps NTSC archival material workflows: 

  • Shoot at 29.97 or 59.94 so that the frame rates match the archival material. You won’t end up with a show that has pulldown or frame-rate converted elements side-by-side with native 30fps material
  • Remember: 29.97 x 2 = 59.94.  These frame rates are, mathematically, perfectly compatible

Frame rate issues raise red flags during digital QC, analysis and may cause a Deliverables failure

I recently worked with a digital distributor who was regularly performing ‘de-interlacing’ and ‘reverse telecine’ filtering to fix films and shows that had undergone previous frame-rate conversions or were otherwise different from their original state

And if you rely on both NTSC and PAL source material?

That is a challenge:

  • First, seek the advice and consent of the network before making any decision about the frame rate to shoot and edit original material
  • Second, create a test of the workflow, including output to the actual Deliverable, to see which of the choices works best, both creatively and technically
    • For example, sometimes you may want a flicker for Special Effects: for example to simulate a home movie. If that’s what you’re after, make sure that your network QC contact knows about it well in advance of Delivery

Do Legacy systems complicate the situation?

Definitely! Production companies and program suppliers differ in their legacy choices of cameras, edit systems, and output decks

And networks differ in what  legacy formats and infrastructures they have invested in.  As technology and distribution platforms continue to evolve, so will your Deliverables

What about Closed Captioning?

Although a little while off, issues related to Closed Captioning requirements for the web are on the horizon for U.S channels due to the passing of the 21st Century Communications Act.

  • These will probably require the delivery of digital content that is already CC’d
  • What used to require just a basic captioning file to facilitate broadcast captions will morph into a set of additional file types containing the same CC data which can then be used by the digital encoding teams
  • Currently, when you transcode a show from Format A to Format B, if you change the frame rate, the CC data is usually corrupted.  The new CC files are compatible with digital captioning and encoding platforms and will fix that, hopefully

You must have worked with producers who have nailed the Delivery process. How are they organized? And what are their best practices?

First, it comes down to experience

  • Producers who have gone through the delivery process are usually more proactive in dealing with issues ahead of time
  • For example, they’ll alert the network to sequences within a program that they know are likely to cause a QC issue:
    • An example is material shot by an amateur or on a substandard camera
    • Another example is a Reality show that contains important dialogue that also has other ‘baked-in’ audio that we would normally like to see split out: for example, a sequence with some sort of musical element going on in the background.  Or a guitar player who then speaks, which combines Music with Dialogue in the same c lip
    • Wireless mic issues are also included in this category
    • A less experienced producer may just take a chance and hope that problems like these won’t be noticed.  They will.  I don’t recommend that strategy

 Second, a key contact is very helpful:

  • Networks like to deal with a Deliverables specialist who represents all or most of a producer’s output.  These are usually the Post Supervisors
  • A very large production company that I dealt with for years has a VP of Post, and we established a strong relationship that enabled us to work through special issues with just a brief phone call.  This person knew their stuff, and we both took the time to understand the impact of any decision and balance the solutions accordingly

Takeaways

  • Content producers and commissioners must work more closely than ever to smooth out the delivery of these critical elements
  • For Program Execs, Producers, Production Managers, Editors, Post Supervisors and Audio Designers:
    • An understanding of Deliverables is a critical part of your job description.
    • It is necessary for a smooth delivery experience
    • It is important to keep abreast of technologies as they evolve.  Develop and maintain good relationships with your DP’s, ‘Data Wranglers’, edit house personnel, audio teams, dub and captioning houses and others who help you to translate technical requirements into Deliverables that work for everyone
    • The more you know about your Deliverables, the wiser and more cost-effective your decisions.

——————————–

SPEAKING ENGAGEMENTS

AIDC
Australian International Documentary Conference
1-4 March 2011, Adelaide, Australia
A hit at Real Screen 2011!
Now the workshop with A&E’s Stephen Harris hits the road!
Getting Your Concept to the Side of the Bus:
A Network Insider’s Guide to
Greenlighting a Factual Program
Improve your chances of success as you learn what’s inside the minds of network executives as they take pitches, buy in to them, promote the strongest concepts to their colleagues, budget productions, and fight for the final sign off. 

And a message to friends and colleagues attending AIDC:
Contact us now to get on the calendar!

MTV’s Skins: Defriended by Top Advertisers. But is it Legally Obscene?

January 28, 2011

MTV continues to suffer from the radioactive charge that the teen-targeted drama series Skins sank below ‘edgy’ and ‘indecent’ to outright ‘obscene’.

The scene most cited by MTV’s critics is the notorious one in episode 3 where a naked youth runs down the street with a pharmaceutically-enhanced erection.

But is this ‘obscene’?

Our Legal & Business Affairs writer, attorney Pamela Jones guides us through the issues of indecency and obscenity as they relate to U.S. broadcasting.

But first, some background:

 Skins is a drama. But the story interests us because MTV topped the podium as ratings leader amongst 100+ cable channels that scheduled unscripted programs in 2010.

  • Jersey Shore earned 3,400,000 viewers in the coveted Adults 18-49 demo
  • Compare that with MTV’s average of 494,000 A18-49 viewers in 2009!

In the me-too world of network programming, a triumph for Skins would have shaped the content of a giant wave of post-Jersey Shore Reality programs that are now in the development pipeline.  

But by this week, MTV’s advertisers were deserting Skins. Among them were GM, Taco Bell, Foot Locker, Mars and Subway. And ratings dropped by half in the second week. This story is far from over.

Meanwhile, read our popular earlier reports on MTV

And don’t miss ‘A Naked Calculation Gone Bad’ by The New York Times’ brilliant media commentator David Carr. Carr’s battle with coke and alcohol addiction frames his view of shows about Teen sex and drugs.

———————–

By Pamela Jones, Attorney

With the premiere of Skins, life just got a whole lot more stressful for my friends in the Standards & Practices department at MTV.  

  • They know that the broadcast of obscene material receives no protection from the First Amendment. 
  • They know that the production of child pornography (depicting sexually explicit activities involving a child) is illegal under numerous federal statutes, and those involved with its production and distribution, may face criminal prosecution. 

In contrast with material deemed to be obscene, indecent program content is generally protected by the First Amendment and may not be regulated by the government except for a compelling interest. 

Broadcast and cable networks use a cadre of tools to self-regulate content. 

  • It should be noted that the FCC’s regulation of content does not reach to cable television. 
    • One justification for this is that cable television is subject to the viewer signing up for access.  
  • Networks self-regulate by scheduling programs that may include indecent material in the 10pm ‘safe harbor’ time slot. 
    • The FCC prohibits the transmission of indecent material on broadcast television during the hours of 6:00 a.m. through 10:00 p.m. 

Networks also ascribe ratings such as TV-14, or in the case of Skins, ‘TV-MA’.

  • The TV-MA rating indicates content appropriate for a ‘mature audience’ only and possibly not suitable for children under 17.

The case of Skins may throw into question the real value of the safe harbor time slot and/or the voluntary parental ratings guidelines, given such a compelling interest as the protection of our children under the age of 17 who are undoubtedly watching this program in record numbers. 

Could MTV realistically argue that it does not intend Skins to be viewed by kids under 17 whether ‘live’ at 10pm or via time-shifting technology, YouTube, Facebook or via segments on its website?

So the legal question is whether Skins is indecent, obscene or constitutes child pornography.  Indecency is defined (in part) as language or material that, in context, depicts or describes sexual activities in terms that are offensive to the broadcast medium’s community standards. 

When ruling on what constitutes obscenity, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart simply stated “I know it when I see it”.  

———————–

Pamela Jones is a transactional attorney specializing in television, digital media, music and entertainment. 

Ms. Jones has managed legal and business affairs departments at leading broadcast and cable television networks including CBS Entertainment, MTV Networks and BBC Worldwide Americas where she handled all program sales for the western hemisphere.

Ms. Jones is co-editor and co-author of Counseling Content Providers In The Digital Age:  A Handbook For Lawyers published this past June by the New York State Bar Association.

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Speaking Engagements

REALSCREEN 2011
Workshop with A&E’s Stephen Harris
January 31, 2011, Washington DC
Getting Your Concept to the Side of the Bus:
A Network Insider’s Guide to
Greenlighting a Factual Program
Improve your chances of success as you learn what’s inside the minds of network executives as they take pitches, buy in to them, promote the strongest concepts to their colleagues, budget productions, and fight for the final sign off. 
———–———– 

AIDC
Australian International Documentary Conference
1-4 March 2011, Adelaide, Australia
Watch out for details
———–———–

Network Deliverables 2/3: Impact of New Platforms like iTunes; Workflows; Metadata; Frame Rates … and More

January 23, 2011

by David Kaplan

David Kaplan has led the Quality Control team for the A&E Television Networks for the last eight years.

He has worked with “hundreds of producers on thousands of hours of programs in dozens of evolving formats.”  

In the second of a 3-part post, David Kaplan kindly shares with DocumentaryTelevision.com his expert understanding of the key issues related to Deliverables.

(Click here for Part 1.) (And Part 3.)

This week in part 2/3:

  • The impact of new digital distribution platforms, like iTunes
  • Have network digital workflows stabilized?
  • Metadata
  • Frame rates, and more

————————————-

What has been the impact on technical Deliverables of new digital distribution platforms like iTunes?

Networks and content licensers needed to exploit digital platforms such as brand websites, VOD, and partner sites such as iTunes, AOL, XBox, Hulu, and others.

These platforms are still evolving, so the preferred format of those Deliverables can vary greatly and change over time.

  • At first, many network Deliverables simply migrated from basic  SD tape to HD tape for encoding, since broadcast remained the main revenue generator
  • As pressure built, producers were hit with demands for new Deliverables:
    • These were comprised of various short-form materials that were submitted initially on tape, then on DVD
    • These files could then be more efficiently ingested by the digital platforms
    • The digital Deliverables also underwent changes depending on the video player being used by the platform:
    • For example, what was once best exploited as SD Letterbox became preferred as SD Full Height Anamorphic or HD as those systems and processes developed

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Connect with Key International Decision Makers at
History Makers 2011
New York City, January 26-28th, 2011

History Makers will connect you with the international executives and program makers working in Factual content creation, broadcast and distribution. Featuring incisive sessions addressing the most pressing issues facing Factual production – including a special focus on the impact of digital media on History, Current Affairs and Non-Fiction broadcasting – History Makers will keep you on the forefront of the Factual industry.

History Makers 2011 will deliver:

  • Facilitated Face to Face meetings and Decision Maker Lunches with the top executives from major international broadcast markets, including North America, Europe and Asia.
  • Keynote presentations from Factual broadcast veterans Bill Moyers and Simon Schama
  • Forward-looking sessions  produced in partnership with nextMEDIA, one of the world’s premier digital media conferences. These digitally-focused sessions will address the changing role of broadcasting in the larger media landscape, with a spotlight on interactive Factual projects, cross-platform programming and innovative new formats.
  • In-depth analysis of major trends for Factual programming in 2011, featuring sessions on the new role for single doc specials, the growth in the Asian market, and the explosion in Crime and Investigation programming.
  • The 2011 History Makers Awards, which will include a special achievement award presentation to FRONTLINE, U.S. public television’s flagship Current Affairs Series, accepted in person by Originator and Executive Producer David Fanning.

Join us in New York at the Marriott Marquis
January 26-28th 2011
Register Today!
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Have network digital workflows stabilized?

The changes are accelerating as networks refine and adjust their infrastructures to keep pace with a rapidly evolving technical environment.

There are a lot of different workflows still being hashed out. No single workflow panacea is on the horizon:

  • For example, some networks encode shows in one piece
  • Others encoded segment-by-segment

 Some channels use outside vendors:

  • A New York vendor built a great business filling the gap for non-broadcast network encoding
  • Many nets lacked the in-house systems that could handle the time-consuming and specialized tasks of encoding or transcoding various media into the necessary digital formats
  • These formats changed so fast that it made more sense to wait until things settled down
  • That created a great environment for savvy dub houses and media encoding companies

For years Metadata has been looming as a major challenge for producers? What’s going on with metadata as a Deliverable?

Most major platforms require differing forms of program metadata

Another major network outsourced this labor-intensive work to a vendor who had invested in a metadata tracking and mapping system

Other channels encode in-house, handling the various formats and frame-rate needs of both the actual content and the metadata

  • NBC provided 2,600 encoded hours of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and exported it to sixteen On Demand destinations
  • We all looked closely at their model, and this accelerated the industry-wide adoption of systems that handle both media and metadata
  • NBC showed us all a glimpse of the future

Networks have set up many unique models and workflows to reflect their individual enterprise choices

I expect that producers will soon be required to fill out metadata forms as part of their Rights Bible submissions, since this is all part of the DRM (Digital Rights Management) issues that are currently in play

Is Standard Def history?

With U.S. HD TV set penetration at around 60-65%, SD continues to be phased out as networks upgrade their infrastructures to accommodate ingest and transcoding (i.e., reformatting the material from one format and/or frame rate to another)

  • However, we have to use SD archival materials that were acquired in the past
  • So while SD may be disappearing from Deliverables, it is still very much with us as source material

The question becomes how best to utilize that SD material within the new HD shows that are being delivered

  • There are various upconvert techniques available but the best method to accomplish this task continues to be hardware converters rather than edit system software
  • Most networks are now creating their own SD versions for air from the HD Deliverable
  • Their aim is to efficiently and automatically exploit the program assets by deriving the necessary HD, SD and digital versions that may be required for intermediate post production and delivery

How do networks ingest the various Deliverables?

That’s a big question with multiple answers:

The main HD show is usually encoded directly for air or to be formatted for air.  There are also teams who encode the shows and edit them for overseas use. Others create the digitally distributed versions

  • Depending on their edit systems the shows can be edited in various ways, taking various forms
  • The main codecs used for editing are ProRes for Final Cut and DNxHD or XDCam for Avid
  • There are also distribution formats which can include variations of Mpeg2, H.264/Mpeg4, Quicktime, Flash, Windows Media, and others. These vary depending on the platform that will be playing out the file to the consumers
  • Generally, the split track versions are used for International repurposing. If they encounter a problem, formatters will use the individual split audio from the DVD audio deliverables
  • The short form material generally  goes to website groups who encode them for use as ‘value added’ material on web platforms or for use as DVD extras
  • Original footage is usually warehoused for later use as archival material that can be licensed out at a later time or for in-house use. 
    • A few years ago, when file based shooting started taking hold, I designed a deliverable so that this file-based footage could be saved rather than just lost to time since no tapes existed for that material

What’s the thinking about Frame Rates?

As the QC of digital files has become more refined, producers ask questions like:

  • ‘What is the best workflow to choose if my program is shot at 23.98 or 25p and I need to deliver at  59.94i?’
  • ‘Which audio frame rate should I deliver?’ 

The simple answer is that producers must make every effort to remain in the same frame rate throughout their projects.  Of course, each project is slightly different and should be looked at individually.

  • One filmmaker I assisted recently was thrilled to hear that  he could deliver us a 23.98 progressive master.  That way, he could use the pilot footage he had already shot at 23.98 and not have to convert it to deliver at 59.94i. 
  • That helped his overseas value also, since no conversion from 23.98 then to 59.94 then back to 50i would be necessary, and the show looked its best in all markets.  This made for a more valuable asset all around.

Next Post: Deliverables 3/3

David Kaplan continues his expert commentary:

  • Leading tape formats
  • Audio
  • Ingesting archive
  • Closed Captioning
  • Recommended best practices for producers

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Speaking Engagements

REALSCREEN 2011
Workshop with A&E’s Stephen Harris
January 31, 2011, Washington DC
Getting Your Concept to the Side of the Bus:
A Network Insider’s Guide to
Greenlighting a Factual Program
Improve your chances of success as you learn what’s inside the minds of network executives as they take pitches, buy in to them, promote the strongest concepts to their colleagues, budget productions, and fight for the final sign off. 
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AIDC
Australian International Documentary Conference
1-4 March 2011, Adelaide, Australia
Watch out for details
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Documentary Campus
in association with the
One World Film Festival
New Directions in Human Rights Documentaries
11-13 March 2011, Prague, Czech Republic
Watch out for details
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Ford’s $50M for Docs; Discovery Fit & Health; OWN Picks 3; Alaska is Hot! Discovery Nets Restructured

January 19, 2011

Several very interesting developments occurred this week in the ever-expanding world of Documentary and Factual Television:

Ford Foundation

  • Ford announced a $50 million initiative to fund docs over 5 years
  • The aim is to help find and support a new generation of filmmakers whose works address urgent social issues.
  • The new initiative is called JustFilms. It “will invest $10 million a year over the next five years to support and expand the community of filmmakers and mediamakers around the world focused on creating documentaries with passion and purpose, but who often lack funding to realize their visions or reach audiences.”

Discovery Fit & Health

  • On 1/1/11, Discovery Health was absorbed by OWN. That closed the chapter on a Discovery strategy of creating (Health) or acquiring (Travel) channels to provide services to consumers of entire industries
  • Now Health is back. It will be relaunched in a merger with FitTV
  • Discovery Fit & Health will reach 50 million TVHH. That’s more than the Sundance Channel!
  • Today’s Real Screen reports on the new channel’s programming priorities

Oprah’s Doc Club

Discovery

We’re at Real Screen

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