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New Oreo Commercial

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Oreo

Commercials are funny things. The trend throughout the 70s and 80s was 60 second commercials. Then it dropped to 30 seconds in the 90s. Then, for awhile in the 00s, marketers experimented with 20, 15, 10 and even 5 second commercials on the thinking that people didn’t have the patience to watch long commercials anymore and that a quick, focused ad would stick in the mind better. It’s the same thinking that eliminated the black between commercials. Remember that? Commercials used to fade completely to black and the sound used to go completely silent. Then, after a second, the new commercial would start. But stations started editing the end of one to the beginning of another because network bean counters realized that over the course of an evening, they might be losing as much as several minutes of potential revenue to black which could add up to hundreds of thousands of lost dollars a day.

Kinda sorta the same thing with program intros. I think of old school intros like Gunsmoke, or the Rockford Files or Gilligan’s Island. Maybe, more recently, Law and Order, as intros that were at least a minute. But Hawaii Five-O has an intro version that is less than 15 seconds long.  CSI’s isn’t much longer.  Again, the longer the intro, the shorter the time for commercials.

But this new Oreo commercial is delightful in that it is a luxurious minute and a half long. That is crazy! That makes it longer than the intros to Psych, NCIS or the Big Bang Theory. And it’s full of animation that reminds me of Prince from his Paisley Park days, but with robots and monsters and vampires.  It’s totally fun.  Could Oreo be onto something? Do they think that our culture has suffered enough blazingly short commercials and that now it’s time to swing the pendulum back? I mean, who cares if the local attorney or used car sales man has a 180 second ad on at 3:17 a.m. But, Oreo? That’s Nabisco, and Nabisco doesn’t screw around with its revenue. The Oreo cookie was the best selling cooking in the US in the 20th century, and is still the best selling cooking well into the 13th year of the 21st century. Let’s see what everybody else does. Expect down-and-dirty-in-a-minute-thirty copycats.

UPDATE:  Many of the drug companies are now using 1:00 to 2:00 commercials to promote their drugs and discuss the potential hazards of them.  According to ispot.tv, they include 1:00 commercials by the makers of Lyrica and Embrel.  The maker of Eliquis is running some 1:15 spots and a spot for the drug Xarelto is 2:00 minutes long.  These represent hundreds of thousands of dollars for drug companies, for example.  It is no wonder time and space for commercials has become a hot commodity.  Wasting a second of time is not in a network’s interest.

How to Be Smooth

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Wireless Microphone

This is a quickie.

TV and radio are technical professions.  Everybody depends on everybody else for a smooth outcome.  Mistakes happen; lights burn out, things fall over, the wrong button gets pushed, a graphic disappears, a computer crashes.  But when they happen, people work to make them as unnoticable as possible.  That doesn’t always happen.  Reporters, anchors and hosts get caught off guard by flubs, both those of other people and their own.  They might apologize, do double takes, start something over, laugh or do any one of a thousand things people do when they’re surprised.

But being smooth is part of being professional, and sometimes, someone is so simply casual about fixing a fix that you have to admire them for it.  Such was the case with KOIN’s Sally Showman this morning.  At the 8:30 local news, traffic and weather break, the camera cut to her giving her weather forecast.  Her lips were moving but nothing was coming out.  There was a problem with her audio.  And smoothly, almost unnoticably, she reached around behind her own back, switched on her wireless microphone, and, as they say in the Army, “continued to march.”

How did she know we couldn’t hear her?  Possibly someone on the studio floor motioned to her that her mic wasn’t working.  Maybe (if she was wearing an earpiece), the director told her to turn it on.  But considering the blooper tapes I’ve seen in my life, even pros can sometimes make something as simple as pushing a button look like a Steve Martin routine.

Live broadcasting is an acquired skill.  It is a dance; gear, people, timing and electronics all choreographed while you drink your coffee.  You’ve seen so many dances that you, discerning audience that you are, know when somebody is stumbling.  So, when there’s a problem, it’s not enough to just fix it.  The fix must also be as ordinary as it is elegant.

Smooth.

Written by Interviewer

February 11, 2016 at 00:01

What Time is it Really?

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WWV

We have all been conditioned to believe that when a TV or radio program begins at the “top” or “bottom” of the hour, it means the program is starting at exactly 1 p.m. or 5:30 a.m. or whenever.

But it’s not that simple.

First, understand that official United States civilian time is maintained by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Boulder, Colorado.  Those are the people who are responsible for ensuring the official weights and measures for the US, including time.  And precision is important to these folks. Time, i.e. the length of a second, is determined based on the vibrations of Cesium 133 atoms.  This was represented by a clock NIST called the “F1”.  But in 2014, they supplemented the “F1” clock with the “F2”, which unlike the previous clock, will not lose one second in 300 million years, making it three times more accurate than the F1.

Meanwhile, US time is synchronized with the rest of the world via something called Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), although it used to be commonly referred to as Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Greenwich, by the way, is a real place. It is the location of the Royal Observatory in a municipality of London. GMT was the international civil time standard until recent years when there has been a hot debate about what GMT is and whether it deserves to be the standard it has historically been.

These two may not seem to have much in common; the measurement within time versus coordination of the World’s clocks. But they are intimately connected. To demonstrate this, imagine hearing a band playing Beyonce’s “Single Ladies”. Then imagine another band starts playing it, but is one beat off from the first band. The beat within both songs is the same length but the starting point of the song is different. Which beat should each group of musicians keep time to, their own or that of the other band?

That can be a problem for time keepers and, coincidentally, broadcasters. For decades, FCC regulations required holders of broadcast licenses to announce who and where their stations are before beginning a program. If you are watching KOIN in Portland, Oregon, when the previous program ends but within a minute of so of a new program, you see promos for upcoming local and network shows. Then, there will be a graphic somewhere on the screen that says you are watching KOIN 6 in Portland, Oregon. Or, if you’re listening to KOPB, you’ll hear promos, then the list of affiliate stations of Oregon Public Broadcasting and their individual locations. By law, you must see and hear these very close to “top” of the hour.

Then the next program begins, supposedly, “straight up”. But if you open the NIST’s time widget before the stations identify themselves, you notice that neither the radio or the TV program starts at the NIST’s official “top” of the hour. In the accompanying video, the CBS and NPR networks the locals go to are about 12 seconds behind the NIST. Twelve seconds might not seem like a big deal. But since billions of dollars are invested in advertising, technology and legislation for time to be both accurate and consistent, why isn’t it a big deal? Otherwise, why have a standard at all?

From simply an economic standpoint, how can stations afford to be off by up to 12 seconds an hour considering how important every moment is for generating revenue from commercials. I blogged about that a few years ago.

Anyway, I’ve had the larger question since my amateur radio days when I used to “DX” WWV, an NIST radio service that used to broadcast official time. If the NIST is the “official” US civilian timekeeper, why don’t broadcasters follow it?

*Accompanying audio and video are used under the Fair Use doctrine for the purposes of criticism, comment and news reporting.

Written by Interviewer

June 5, 2015 at 05:53