Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Fair Update

The Dispatch Effect goes global.

Every year Ohio State fair has a butter sculpture contest. After it was over, the Dispatch gang said, "Now, what do we do with this thing?" Seeking a featured video placement on YouTube, they set their entry on the roof of the building - it was mighty hot last week - and time-lapse videoed it melting. Mmmm. Yummy.

The poster won't let me embed the video, so click here to watch the gooey fun.

To my knowledge, this the most viewed item on the web involving the Ohio State Fair.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Not Fair

Here's a joke. It's an inside joke between my wife and me. It goes like this...

Man: Did you hear the one about the Ohio State Fair?

Woman: No.

Man: Neither did I. I'm in Lima. (Drum kick.)

Every year, the Ohio State Fair chugs along and manages to do nothing for me except sneak under the radar. The Ohio State Fair is the ant under my shoe, the Goodyear blimp flying over my house at midnight, Fred Thompson running for president. It is persona non gratis: I ain't going unless I can get in for free. And even then, I'll probably miss it, because we here in the outback corner of the state never hear about it.

Sure, in Columbus, the fair is a major media event, surrounded by major corporate sponsorships and up-to-the-minute news coverage. Big name entertainment travels to the fair, I guess. The rides are bigger, I'm assuming. And the bullshit gets deeper, that I know.

The Columbus Dispatch reports attendance was up this year. "Our prayers have been answered," fair manager Virgil Strickler told the Dispatch reporter, in reference to the weather. It must've been divine intervention that brought thousands more to the fair this year, because it sure wasn't the advertising in Ohio's other markets. You know, places other than Columbus.

You can't blame the fair management for wanting to put their money where it'll do the most good. With recent fuel prices and a bad economy, a trip to the Ohio State Fair is a low-cost obvious option to families in the Columbus metro. Add to that the Dispatch Group's long standing connections to the fair, and you have built-in media coverage from a major newspaper, WBNS-TV, co-owned radio stations, and The Ohio News Network, which covers the majority of the state via cable, albeit on the higher priced digital tier.

Now, you can't have an event this size in a highly competitive media market like Columbus without the other news media outlets crying, "Me too! I wanna go! Lemme cover the fair!" The result? It's impossible to turn on a TV, radio, or open your eyes in greater Columbus during the fair without on the spot, 'round the clock, team coverage you can count on from the station where news is first, fast, dedicated, live and late breaking reports from the Ohio State Fair. Anchor teams host the news from the grounds. Helicopters provide live shots of the traffic and parking situation. If the Ohio State Fair is the largest state fair in the country, then second place goes to the media carnival that surrounds the fair. I call it the Dispatch Effect.

If you live in Columbus, this is a month or so of OMG media frenzy.

If you live in Cleveland, Cincinnati, or Toledo, the state fair ranks on the agenda somewhere after the sports. It's the kicker... if we have time.

If you live in Lima, the Ohio State Fair doesn't exist.

Airtime devoted to the state fair on WLIO this year can be measured in seconds. There are no ad campaigns, no guests from the fair, no news crews sent to Columbus, no coupons for admission in the newspapers, no links to local websites, no wacky morning show remotes, no billboards, and nobody cares. When was the last time there was a Lima Day at the Ohio State Fair? Probably the last time Bob Braun did his shows there.

OK. If the Ohio State Fair doesn't want rural Ohio citizens showing up and ruining their wine and cheese tasting affair, then that's fine with me. After all, who needs them? After years of shoddy management throughout the 1980's and 1990's, the Ohio State Fair scaled back, downsizing to what has basically become a really big Franklin County Fair, a temporary alternative to King's Island and Cedar Point for the children of Dublin and Upper Arlington. The State Fair knows their audience, and they have to keep their projections reachable. The Dispatch Effect will only work in Columbus; media outlets beyond the Effect will actually expect to get PAID to run commercials for the State Fair, and we can't have that. That requires accounting, fiscal responsibility, and an honest to goodness public relations effort. Forget that. Cincinnati has the Reds. Cleveland has the Indians, and LeBron is in Beijing. Toledo has Jamie Farr. And Galipolis has... uh... beautiful scenery. Let them eat cake.

Hey, did you hear the one about the Ohio State Fair?

They still have one! (Drum kick)

Monday, August 18, 2008

Last Update?

Now that Michael Phelps has won his eight gold medals, the big questions around this TV station are:

Do we put on the color bars with tone, the classic "Indian head" test pattern, or do we just shut down the transmitter and paint the tower?

One thing is for certain: I'm on vacation. But I'm planning at least one more post this week, so check back.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Another Update

Oh yeah. The commercial count during the Olympics has definitely jumped. Segments are now averaging closer to six minutes - the standard for late night programming. Now that we're into the heart of the games, this was to be expected. Michael Phelps is on track for a record setting gold medal run. Unfortunately, he only swims every now and then. While we wait, the network has time to kill, and putting the games on the air ain't cheap. We'll be right back.

When a network sends unpredictable live programming, the announcers try to give the 200 or so affiliates across the country and beyond a clear vocal cue to alert the master control operators "Here comes a local break." In the old days, this was done with the subtlety of a hydrogen bomb. "Stay tuned! We'll be right back after we pause for a word from our local stations. This is NBC." These days, they try to be less in-your-face, but the message is clear.

With the gymnastics judges taking a small eternity to put up scores last night, Bob Costas found himself anchoring well past 1:00AM Eastern. He wanted to go home. Two-hundred affiliates wanted their term break. Everybody wanted to wrap it up. And with that in mind, Costas started giving us the subtle pre-cues that we were going to the terminal break.

Only it didn't happen. But first, we have a guest in the studio. He talked. And then we switched to a produced piece about the Forbidden City. Under normal circumstances this would be a mild diversion to kill time while the Israeli archery team takes their turn. BUT NOT NOW! Shut up and and throw it to local! Finally, Costas was able to give his cue and really mean it.

Memo to NBC: The traveloge pieces are nice, but timing is everything.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Well, now we know of one reason why they didn't have a direct tie line to the sound board during the opening ceremony at the Olympics. Seems that cute little girl we saw singing wasn't doing the singing. She was lip syncing to another girl who had been deemed unsuitable to show on TV. (And I thought Western society was shallow.)

This brings up the question: did the adult singers lip sync as well? Probably. It's a standard practice around the world in situations where a dead mike battery or a shorted earpiece can wreck the show. Sure, minor scandals were raised when certain performers synced, particularly Britney Spears, but she did it badly. Professional performers miming to themselves is one thing. Switching little girls on the world stage is quite another.

This "Singin' In The Rain" fiasco might have a positive outcome if the girl who really sang becomes famous, and if young girls and parents everywhere start thinking and talking about the expectations placed on women in this reality show called Life.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Olympics So Far

Putting the Olympics on television is the ultimate political act of a network: you can't make everybody happy, and in fact, if somebody's cheesed off at you, you're probably doing it right. Some people aren't happy with the Olympics being in Beijing to begin with. Bob Costas standing in Tieneman Square might be just a little unsettling to some, like resurfacing the Titanic and using it for a cruise ship. But then there was the spectacle of the opening ceremonies. You have to admit, that was quite a show.

So, how's it going so far? Well, from the point of view of this NBC affiliate master control operator, it looks great, but sometimes I have to turn the sound down.

It's the same old TV axiom: we'll spend $50,000 on a camera, and hand the talent a hundred dollar microphone - if we remember to hand them one at all. At one point Saturday night Bob Costas found himself holding his lavaliere while his guest had no mike at all. Bob assumed the viewers could hear nothing, but in reality we could hear everyone OK thanks to the Chinese tradition of using an omni-directional overhead mike in the studio. How delightfully low tech. And it worked - somewhat. Had Mr. Costas put away his snark for a moment the segment might've gone over quite well. Lord, how I miss Jim McKay.

I like Bob Costas. I get him. But I can easily see why some folks would like to see him get the same send off they gave Dennis Miller on Monday Night Football. Costas is the commentator voted most likely to reference Dostoevsky during a demolition derby. His bon mots aren't just dry, they're dehydrated. Thank God Matt Lauer was there during the opening ceremony to throw some water on the fire. Matt, he who uses blow darts to deflate Conan O'Brien's inflatable man, is in on the joke. (You have to have a sense of humor to put up with Meredith every morning.) Listening to Lauer and Costas wasn't too painful. Costas: "The Republic of Central Africa, is, as you know, a Republic located in Central Africa." Lauer: "Thanks, Bob."

People are asking why did NBC spend good money to fly Cris Collinsworth to China? (Knowing Cris, he's probably asking the same thing.) I'm asking why did NBC spend good money to fly Andrea Kramer to China. And why will they blow another wad to send her back?

So, overall, great images, but the sound needs work. That 5.1 surround can reveal a lot of shortcomings in the system. Even with the best windscreens, plosive laden commentators are thumping woofers in homes everywhere. The studio segments have audio on only the center channel. During the opening ceremony, somebody forgot the hook up a tie line to the stadium sound board so we could really hear the singers. And more care needs to be taken in aiming crowd mikes at the events. Aim them up into the ambiance of the stadium, not at the lower rows where an isolated group create a distraction. During the women's gymnastics Sunday night, the mikes were picking up a group of very enthusiastic young ladies. Now, those of you who have ever attended a girl's junior high or high school athletic event know what I'm talking about. These are teenage girls. They do what teenage girls tend to do at athletic events: they shriek... and shriek... and shriek... and shriek... always at volume levels and pitches that cause automatic garage doors to open. Please, aim the mikes up. Thank you.

Some other issues being debated:

It's not live on the West Coast.
How long have you lived California? You know nothing is live on the West Coast.

There are too many commercials.
If you could see my network timing sheets, you'd see there are fewer commercial breaks during prime time during the Olympics than there are during a typical prime time schedule. The show segments tend to be much longer, and the spot breaks tend to be shorter. That said, NBC needs to back off the promos for the upcoming fall shows. I saw "My Own Worst Enemy" in three consecutive breaks. NBC can be it's own worst enemy.

The announcers on the CBC are better.
Yeah. They are.