Lessons for Broadcasters from the WTC/Pentagon Bombings
the last few weeks, I've been taking notes of what broadcasters should have
learned, and I believe have learned from the terrorist bombings of the World
Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Arlington, VA.
Over the Air Broadcasting Rules!
Before the blasts at the WTC, WCBS-TV's evening news was usually trumped in
the ratings by Spanish-language news casts. After the blast, as they were
for a while the only VHF station broadcasting in the market (at standby
facilities) their ratings "skyrocketed." Even in a highly cabled market
like NYC, with cable customers having access to the same signals as usual,
OTA made the difference. Sure, many of these viewers were variable and many
would soon dry up. But, considering the multitude of signal sources on
cable (news 12, NY1, CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, FNC, etc) covering the crisis, CBS's
massive ratings jump must be a grim milestone for broadcasters to ponder at
the verge of a commercial DTV transition.
Viacom model, right after the blast, was to plaster CBS News content over
all of their available channels, including UPN, CMTV, VH-1, MTV, etc. With
no increase in information. To a certain extent, this was the model
followed by ABC vis a vis ESPN, and Fox with their multiple channels. Call
it mimeo broadcasting. Maybe it made sense, as nobody was watching anything
- For a
day or so after the blast, this largely was the model followed by GE. Then,
in the second day after the blast, they changed course: Tom Brokaw was on
the NBC feed, while CNBC and MSNBC used their own anchors, and some of the
reporters from NBC, for their own specialized or additional coverage. I'm
not sure what MSNBC's model really is (tech news? taking MS money?) but
these three networks provided complimentary coverage that largely was not
available elsewhere. And, they used the crisis to exert individual
identities of their channels. Now, if they only had an operation for
acquiring and understanding news from outside the borders of the USA ...
Single Stick Broadcasting Saves Money (most of the time)
We've heard on this list and elsewhere that the big stick model of US
broadcasting is dead, and proponents say that it works in the US and saves
money over the way others do it. I believe that the current situation will
prove otherwise. Contemplate what CBS's giant ratings boost will do for
them when there is a future similar crisis. Contemplate how much money was
saved over the last 30 years since WTC stations went on-line (by not keeping
back up facilities.) Then, calculate how much money the stations will lose
in money (not to calculate prestige) in the next three or four (or more
years) because of using minimal facilities. My seat of the pants synopsis
is that they lost much more in money than they saved. Of course, if
advertising rates to to 1970 levels ...
try to figure out where stations will broadcast from, if as appears to be
the current sentiment, if the WTC is not rebuilt. One of the many
advantages of the WTC was the tremendous reach of the stations (more than
100 miles in my experience) and the single location of the VHF's in the
market, easing tuning problems.
since the topic is DTV, contemplate using a dozen or more locations for the
existing NYC tv stations to broadcast DTV signals. Perhaps the single stick
model is dead.
Every station that presents news needs a backup transmitter site. Cartoons
-- and stations that are off the air -- are irrelevant in a crisis. Will
the future have more such events than the past 30 years, or fewer?
Acquiescing to Government Programs is no guarantee of Commercial Success.
- On September 11, 2001, at least 19 persons were able to take over four US commercial jet
liners, despite the institution of FAA-mandated screening programs at all
airports. The airlines did "everything they were required to do by law" and
yet guys armed with box cutters were able to take over jets and crash them
into two buildings. American Airlines was insured for $1.5 billion per
building; they are essentially bankrupt as the damages for the WTC is right
now estimated to be $18 billion, and AA does not have $15 billion in the
bank. United Airlines had similar coverage, yet not enough to cover the
crash at the Pentagon. (Flying planes create significant -- and until
recently -- unrealized exposure.)
two companies will only be able to survive -- if at all -- if they are
granted some form of drastic relief by the government. When that comes up,
ALL ASPECTS OF THE AIRLINES' BUSINESS AND COMMERCIAL PRACTICES will be up
for grabs. (Nice touch, AA, furloughing 20,000 employees and after the
bill was signed by the president to put $800 million into your coffers,
telling the furloughed employees that there would be no severance pay. That
will cost you in the long run, but I suspect you're not engaged in the long
run at this time.)
ATSC transmission system, you might recall, was mandated by the government.
It is not hard to imagine that the future of TV broadcasting in the US will,
at some point in the future, be subjected to the same political process.
(Who remembers the NAB/MSTV "vote" and still thinks it was taking the
Very few local stations can be trusted to not step over important national
coverage for local foolishness. Here in San Diego, KFMB-TV 8 stepped all
over the ever-present CBS coverage to present the local angle. (Which, for
all practical purposes, amounted to nil.) As a result, I've now stopped
watching their news for the rest of my life. McGraw-Hill's KGTV/10/ABC, on
the other hand, had a cable news channel on the Cox cable system. Until
Friday evening, they never interrupted ABC's stellar coverage, except once
an hour with a :10 (I'm sure this only appeared on sets attached to cable)
saying "For local news on the terrorist bombings, please tune to cable
channel 15.") I don't know that the cable channel carried spots, the local
angle never attracted me.
This is related to the OTA rules point, but it's something to contemplate in
the cable, NTSC and ATSC world. Cable subscribers are essentially a fixed
part of your audience. Each cable subscriber has a wide panoply of
programming sources. OTA viewers, without the monthly commitment, are more
variable group, with a much more limited selection of options.
Suggestion for broadcasters who feel the need for all their digital signals
being carried on cable. The next time there's a crisis meriting saturation
coverage, put all the crisis coverage on of your DTV virtual channels that
is not carried by cable. Run the same old programming on the main (cable
carried) channel. Run a crawl saying: your cable company has declined to
carry our crisis coverage because they want to limit the information
available to you. For more information, call Joe Cable on XXX-XXXX.
"Impossible" carriage will be arranged within 30 minutes, I bet.
- Subject: Renascence – A look into the past
- By Roy Trumbull
- From 1955 to 1958 Dave Garroway did a television
program called Wide Wide World. Every Sunday afternoon for 90 minutes you
were transported live all over the country. That was fairly daunting to do,
as television satellites were off into the future and the venues had to be
delivered by conventional point-to-point microwave.
- At the end of each program, Dave would perch partway up
a step ladder in front of a set that invoked infinite perspective and say
these signature lines:
- “The world stands out on
- No wider than the heart is
- Above the world is stretched
- No higher than the soul is
- Then Dave would hold up the palm of his hand toward the
camera and say, “Peace.”
- I’m afraid this is the only example I can think of
where poetry was associated with a weekly television show.
- Recently two books were reviewed in the New York Times
Book Review about the life and works of Edna St. Vincent Millay. One
reviewer commented that Dave Garroway was fond of quoting several lines from
one of her poems. Bingo, I traced the poem. It was the title poem from the
anthology “Renascence and Other Poems”, first published in 1917.
- Dave Garroway used the first two lines from the last
stanza. The entire stanza reads:
- The world stands out on either
- No wider than the heart is
- Above the world is stretched
- No higher than the soul is
- The heart can push the sea and
- Farther away on either hand;
- The soul can split the sky in
- And let the face of God shine
- But East and West will pinch
- That can not keep them pushed
- And he whose soul is flat—the
- Will cave in on him by and by.
- Subject: US TV Stations Look to Ad Revenue and
Datacasting to Fund H/DTV Transition
- SCRI International, Inc.,
http://www.scri.com, announced the results of SCRI’s DTV Migration
Survey of US TV, which shows how TV Stations expect to fund the transition
- The majority of stations (71%) expect to generate
revenue to pay for the transition to digital via commercial revenues.
Datacasting is also seen as a primary source of generating revenue – over
six out of ten stations (62%) expect to use datacasting revenue to help pay
for the DTV conversion. One out of four stations (24%) also expect to use
the revenue generated from leading out multichannels. The non-commercial
stations are also relying upon corporate funding, PBS membership and
government grants. Stations are not relying on pay per view for DTV
funding. Stations do expect to use more than one source, as evidenced by
that fact that the total exceeds 100%. The results are shown as follows:
- Revenue Sources Percent
Commercial revenue 70.9
Datacasting services 62.0
Leasing out unused multichannels 24.1
Corporate funding 11.4
PBS membership 6.3
Govt. grants 5.1
Pay per view 1.3
- According to an NAB announcement, more than two-thirds
of all commercial television stations (68.2 percent) expect to have a
digital signal on the air before May 1, 2002. A census of stations
conducted by NAB in recent weeks found that more than 19 of 20 (95.8
percent) of the nation’s television homes would be in markets served by at
least one digital signal by that date.
- The recent 2001-2006 DTV Migration Report Series
conducted by SCRI International includes TV Station Trends and Products
Reports as well as a Production / Post Production DTV Migration Trends
Report. To view the table of contents for the DTV Migration Reports online,
- EdNote: For a follow up on the World Trade Center
disaster, take a look at one of these URLs.
- Parting Shots
- By Larry Bloomfield
- Totally off topic, but a couple of things that I feel
needs to be said: As you know, we don’t review TV shows in Tech-Notes.
Here’s the exception to that rule. If you missed seeing “West Wing” this
past week (Oct. 3rd), it points out how we can get off on the
wrong track so easily. I’m not a big fan of shows that set out to “teach” a
moral lesson. That’s something I believe is the duty of parents and
religionists. That particular episode of West Wing is the exception. None of
us should have any problem with that show! Well done! If you missed it,
bug the network, the producers, or whoever, but get a copy and take the hour
to watch it. I’d like to have a copy in my archive. It would be required
view of my grandchildren and possibly loaned to the local middle schools and
- Because of the nature of Tech-Notes 90, the story we
carried was all that should have been carried. I can’t begin to thank all
the folks who were so cooperative in furnishing me with information so I
could tell the story of how our industry came together and got New York City
back on the air one way or another. For the most part, completive battle
lines became invisible. The various forums that I subscribe to were ablaze
with information and, to some extent, misinformation. In this business,
that’s to be expected.
- While I’m making exceptions to the rules, there is one
other thing that I have a difficult time dealing with and that’s the blatant
prejudice that has our country in such a death grip. It takes so little for
us to slip back into the Stone Age when it comes to saying that EVERYONE of
a different religion, race, ethnic derivation, or whatever, is evil, bad or
needs to be wiped out.
- I can trace my ancestry back eight generations here in
North America to a time before the concept of a United States would have
been considered an act of treason against the English crown. Like most of
you, I am a proud American. I spent sixteen years in Uncle Sam’s canoe club
and would go back on active duty in a heartbeat, if they’d take an
overweight, sixty-three year old. It is rather comforting to hear our
British kinfolk position themselves with us in our time of consternation and
grief, not to mention the plethora of governments and monarchies who support
- I can’t get over hearing and seeing some of the off the
wall comments, however, some, who without think, have made castigating whole
groups of people. I can appreciate the myriad of feelings we have all
garnered over the recent tragic events. In no way do I presume ever offer
the last word on anything. I do know in my heart that those who have
inflicted this heinous act of terrorism on our great nation and claim to do
so in the name of their religion are no more apart of the teaching of
Mohamed, the Koran and the faith of Islam then are members of the KKK,
skin-heads and the likes are apart of the teachings of Christ, the Bible and
under the umbrella of Christianity.
- I’m not sure who it was who said: “If we don’t learn
from history, we will be condemned to repeat it.” With that in mind, permit
me to share some quotes from a number of well known people from history that
deal with many of the comments I mentioned earlier. You can substitute any
major religion’s name where the words Christianity appear below; it applies
to all equally:
- Many have quarreled about religion that never practiced
- All religion must be tolerated, for every man must get
to heaven in his own way.
-- Frederick the
- Science without religion is lame -- religion without
science is blind.
- It's not dying for faith that's so hard, it's living up
- Justice is itself the great standing policy of civil
society and any eminent departure from it, under any circumstances, lies
under the suspicion of being no policy at all.
-- Edmund Burke
- The way of the world is, to praise dead saints, and
persecute living ones.
- It is the cause and not merely the death that makes the
- If a man cannot be a Christian in the place where he
is, he cannot be a Christian anywhere.
-- Henry Ward
- Christianity has not been tried and found wanting it
has been found difficult and not tried.
-- Gilbert K.
- The bible may be the truth, but is it not the whole
truth and nothing but the truth.
-- Samuel Butler
- Satan the envious said with a sigh: "Christians know
more about their hell than I."
- An atheist is a man who has no invisible means of
-- Fulton J.
- Passover affirms the great truth that liberty is the
inalienable right of every human being.
-- Morris Joseph
- The Bible is a window in this prison of hope, through
which we look into eternity.
-- John Sullivan
- If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.
- The best beloved of all things in My sight is justice.
turn not away therefrom...
- All mankind loves a lover.
-- Ralph Waldo
- I never knew how to worship until I knew how to love.
-- Henry Ward