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Visiting Professor - Day 9 - The Politics of Time

The weekly sales meeting began with the announced retirement of Cheryl Beers. Cheryl and I had a great conversation last week. We talked about how media advertisement is about selling air, selling time. Time is as much an employee as all those sitting in the Flagler Conference Room. These folks live in a world where time is bought and sold.

Cheryl joined WPTV-TV 13 years ago. She is looking forward to retirement. Cheryl wants to spend more time with her grandchildren and take it easy. I’ve been to a lot of retirement announcements in TV stations. It is always bittersweet. I’m happy for them, but for those who remain, we see their ghosts walking the halls and sitting in their cubicles.

It won’t be very long until a wave of new people will come in to buy and sell. They won’t know what came before them and the clock will keep ticking. I’ve always said that we, in the TV business, build sandcastles. In the end, the sandcastles disappear with the tide. People may remember you, but they don’t remember what you built, they remember how you built. People will remember how you treated them, how you came to the rescue or how you took the lead when they all needed you to do it.

They will remember Cheryl.

Time moves on, and so does the meeting. The topic of political ads brings a somber tone to those at the table. It is a political season in a very important state. It looks like political ads will be plugging up the works, taking all of the available inventory spots to sell. It’s a bad time for Account Executives because that means their buyers won’t get their TV airtime. In the past, this was a big problem because there was no other place to put spots or advertise. The inventory won’t stay open for long, as we get closer to November. Heck, the inventory will be gone by August 1. There are a limited number of spots to sell, time is finite and each time period is more valuable than another.

The National Association of Broadcasters says, “In the 45-day period prior to a primary or caucus, or the 60-day period prior to a general or run-off election, Congress has limited what a radio or television station may charge a political candidate for airtime. Candidates are entitled to a lowest unit rate.” This is an attempt to maintain political fairness. Candidates shouldn’t be forced into having deep pockets. NAB is clear that this provides a candidate the benefit of all discounts offered to a commercial advertisers for the same class and amount of time, without regard to the frequency of the candidate’s advertising. It may be fair for candidates but it's not fair to many account executives.

Unfortunately, political season impacts the sales department. The account executives work on 100% commission and this time of the political cycle makes it harder to make deals and sell TV ads. Clients are being booted out of TV to make way for the political ads. Digital Sales is a solution. The clients can be moved over to the OTT. They can get their ads on HULU, Sony Crackle, Facebook, Instagram, and others. In this way, television is evolving quickly toward other platforms. For those who think TV is dead, they are only thinking of the box on the wall. Content is king. Television gurus know that local television’s strength is live events (storms, breaking news) and it doesn’t need to be seen on a big set. The evolution will happen if it hasn’t happened already.

Yesterday, I spoke with Lance Ing, NBC Producer, and he says the traditional news story of one minute and thirty seconds is going to disappear because audiences don’t watch them. The modern audience wants 4 seconds or 4 minutes. In other words, give me the headline and tell me enough to inform me. However, people love binge watching documentaries or longer form stories. News shows like VICE are popular with millennials because they are interested in more info about what interests them, about one topic.

NBC unveiled two new shows, New Amsterdam and Manifest. The two shows were discussed at the meeting and it looks like Manifest could be the big hit. It is a Lost-like, Robert Zemeckis production, and is estimated to pull in the W25-54 crowd. So, stay tuned and find out if the projections come true.

Time will tell.

Time does tell or at least it reveals change. I sat in on a commercial edit in the afternoon. Editor Ralph Capabianco worked closely with a client on revamping one of the client’s ads. His edit suite was full of reminders of days long gone and echoes of the past.

While I was sitting there, I noticed the artifacts of technological changes. The edit suite had empty holes in the production desk’s racks. Cables are left dangling, like the disemboweled guts of old equipment. Whatever was there is obsolete but I can sit there and imagine the old days.

The style of editing has changed so much in my career. The empty holes remind me of tape decks and audio carts. It brings back memories of good friends. John Marinko was a great editor, who made great sandcastles. He’s still alive in Cleveland, I believe. There's probably only a handful of people left at WKYC-TV that remember John's skill. He was a maestro in an edit suite. In those days before computers, the tape machines would be whirling, tapes would be flying and the edit would have to be taken one cut at a time. He’d run from room to room, loading tapes and then return to the controls, listening all the while to the suggestions of clients and producers. Listening to clients during an edit is tough. I tell my students that they have never edited anything until they have to sit with a producer or a client for 10 hours straight, day after day. Kind of like being on a chain gang without the heat, the fear of death, or the anxiety of being caught if you escape. It takes a special amount of patience. I didn’t have much patience, at the end of my career, to work closely with clients. I liked working on my own and then showing a rough cut via the web. Having someone looking over my shoulder was not my style but I did it because it was my job.

Tips for young editors: have a personality. General Manager Lloyd Bucher’s “Orlando Test” is a good way to figure out if you can make it as an editor. The one difference in his test is that the editor has to be the silent driver, the chauffeur. The editor has to have a good personality, have a limited vocabulary of bad words and know when to shut up. Let the client yap away, he’s paying you. Don’t dawdle work faster.

A good editor knows how to manage files and keeps them. Ralph Capabianco’s client wanted to look at an old commercial they cut last year. Ralph quickly found it and showed it to the client. He saved them both time by taking the time to organize and story his previous work so he could find it. Being in the edit suite is a lot like riding in a submarine. You can’t look out the windows. You need to communicate with your navigator, and you need to make sure you make the most of your air.

You and your client are locked in a room without windows, traveling together, to who knows where. Editing with a client should be a part of astronaut training. There are days when the work flows and time flies, and there are days when you can feel yourself age between the tick and the tock.

As you can guess, time is the theme of this post.

Time is money in an edit suite.

Time is bought and sold on TVs and websites.

Time is the irresistible force and the immovable object.

Time will always win.

And as I tell my students,

Time is the enemy.

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