A whole new world

No one person can understand the whole gamut of the industry — perhaps because it is clearly no longer a single industry
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During the nine years that this column has run in Broadcasting Engineering, the video world has significantly changed.

Old technology

Nine years ago, the studio was still basically analog. Programs were made using cameras that had first-generation CCD pickup devices, recordings were still all tape, desk controls were analog and tactile, and editing was entering new nonlinear arenas. The digital world included expensive special effects units. And in the world of standards converters, the few players that existed were regarded in awe because of the seeming magic involved.

The companies that exhibited that magic then haven't come very far now. The imagination has dried up. Some companies have gone away because they could not accept that their $50,000 box could be replaced with $500 software.

Back to the future

Today, it is extremely difficult to buy an SD, studio-quality camera. They exist, but broadcasters are encouraged to buy HD cameras using 1/2in CCDs. And as always after an Olympics year, there are many “only used once in Torino” bargains available.

Few operations use tape. Servers distribute the content. Linear editing has gone the way of the dodo. Continuity of program and commercials is now done with preprogrammed switches. And the digital elements of operations are now completely embedded in products.

Standards conversion consists of a world of network processors with massive, multiple-watt burning ICs that have hundreds of pins and come from startup vendors in Silicon Valley that don't know — nor seem to need to know — what luminance and chrominance are.

The engineers of yesteryear

Broadcast engineers used to be patient people who could tinker and maintain, find solutions, keep machines running with duct tape, understand and set levels, see degradation in images, and answer any technical questions. They were respected, but underpaid.

Now, those same engineers run several call letter stations, look after cable headends, are on call 24/7 for the transmitters, are looked down on by management and are still underpaid. If station engineers are lucky, they might have a couple of fresh graduates who better understand the digital stuff so they can focus on maintaining the last shreds of analog, especially the transmitters.

Today, it seems we no longer train broadcast engineers to know the entire industry. Little work today is hands-on.

Many of the engineers in my generation have retired, become consultants or accepted that the only role they have left is in a management position. But I don't accept that I am ready to be put out to pasture. I have tried to maintain a working understanding and overview of our changing industry.

I am of the era when engineers experienced adrenaline at least once during a work shift. Whether it was replacing an image orthicon tube in a camera on the studio floor during a live production of the original “Doctor Who” or losing a UHF transmitter's final stage power amplifier during peak viewing hours, it was all very real.

And it was time-controlled. Once the event was over, it was done with. There was no “fix it in post” mentality, because there was no post.

An expanding industry

The changes that have occurred during the last nine years are momentous. For example, events such as the annual NAB conference are really no longer about broadcasting. They are about a huge blanket media that I am not at all sure I want to completely understand in the future. And no one person can understand the gamut of the industry — perhaps because it is clearly no longer a single industry.

I write extensively on the Internet. Embracing that new medium has been one of the new tricks that this old dog has learned successfully. Today, that is bringing me the adrenaline I remember from those earlier days of broadcasting. And I've realized I need to spend my time in the studio.

So, after nine years, this is my last “EOM” column for Broadcast Engineering. This is my end of message. Thank you, readers, for your many responses and comments over the years. Take care out there.

Paul McGoldrick is an industry consultant on the West Coast.

Send questions and comments to:paul.mcgoldrick@penton.com