Broadcasters slash expenses no matter the cost

Okay, it's an over-the-top headline, but I wanted to capture your attention. I’ve recently been struck by the seemingly absurd ways company managers try to cut operating costs. Sure, we’ve all read or experienced the layoffs, staff reductions, salary cuts and furloughs. And most of us are now struggling to do more work in less time with smaller budgets and staff to do it. Even so, companies continue to try to squeeze every penny from OPEX budgets.

Here I’ll show you two examples, but I need you to tell me some of the things your company is doing to try to save money. What cutbacks and cost savings are you enduring? I’ll post some of the better ideas in this blog.

News readers have to pace themselves

An Oct. 14 story in the "Washington Post" caught my eye because it contained the word “prompter.” The story told of how one station was reducing costs by forcing news readers to operate their own teleprompter.

The story caused me to laugh, because on the surface it appears so reasonable. The article said that station WTTG was installing “self-operating” controls so news readers could control the text speed on their teleprompters. The goal, of course, is to eliminate the cost of a prompter operator.

Why shouldn’t a news reader control their prompter? In an era when broadcasters look for every labor-saving, cost-cutting, penny-pinching thing they can do to survive, I understand why some corporate office “suit” sees the inexpensive technology as a cheap alternative to paying a human being.

Broadcast Engineering magazine is filled with advertisements from companies that produce high-quality teleprompters. All can be remote-controlled by hand or foot devices. Even so, it’s an industry secret that without teleprompters, most of television’s pretty faces couldn’t tell a news story from a car ad. The primary skill these people have, in addition to their good looks, is the ability to read well from a scrolling list of text. However, ask them to memorize anything or scan a piece of paper and tell you what it says in a coherent fashion, and you have the recipe for disaster. Many of these nonjournalists can’t talk and turn the page at the same time.

The above station’s news director said, “We have purchased new equipment including foot pedals and hand control. In the coming weeks, we will begin placing this equipment throughout our studios and we will begin a vigorous training program. Our goal is to use this equipment flawlessly.”

My money is on the hardware. The first week or so of newscasts ought to be funny. Stay tuned.

A dead clock saves money

My second example of foolish belt-tightening comes from Sprint.

Here is a company that has undergone more face lifts than Joan Rivers. It has laid off tens of thousands of people. Most staffers haven’t had a raise for years. And, rumors of its sale to other telecommunication giants continue.

Even so, Sprint, at least in the Kansas City corporate office, was historically known as the party headquarters. Sprint employees often partied like tomorrow was the end of the world. These folks partied at work like you and I party on the weekend!

Sprint staffs regularly conducted so-called team-building exercises. These weekday activities involved day-long excursions to lakes, parks, bowling allies and other recreational locations. All expenses were paid, of course. Sprint even had folks whose job it was to think of new ways to party under the general banner of corporate service.

Well, those days are long gone. Corporate mandates now prevent such extravagance. No more desktop printers. No more corporate shirts. Heck, this company has even had to shut down one of three restaurants on the company’s Kansas City campus. Damn, that must have hurt! One of the two remaining restaurants only has about 10 different types of mini-restaurants inside it. What flavor-of-the-month did they lose in the one restaurant that closed? Mandarin kosher barbeque? Geez!

Our office has one cold food vending machine. The menu selections are updated about twice a month. Trust me, it doesn’t serve anything close to what you can get at (one of the two) Sprint restaurants.

Sprint’s latest cost-cutting measure strikes me as corporate off-the-wall foolishness. The company is removing all clocks from meeting rooms. Why? Because it costs too much to provide batteries. The justification is that “everyone has a cell phone” and phones have clocks. What’s next? No desk calendars because phones have them too? Maybe they will remove one bulb from every light fixture to save power. Dark corners can be lighted by the screens of Sprint employee cell phones.

Do you have examples of ways to reduce OPEX? What is your company doing to save money? Let me know, and I’ll share it (anonymously if requested) with the rest of our audience.