Billy Mays may not be selling TV cameras for $19.99, but “less expensive” is what the buyers coming to the NAB Show’s exhibit floor in April will be looking for. And the equipment manufacturers are doing their best to offer products that will entice them with lower stickers or added features.
The vendors of broadcast equipment feel your pain.
Recognizing that TV stations are seeking a lower cost structure to go along with their lower revenue structure, the purveyors of cameras, recorders, editors and the other technology that make stations go are focusing on products that either cost less or that enable stations to operate more efficiently.
They all now seem to get that they are selling to the CEO and CFO as well as to the group engineer (or at least the smart ones do).
The latest evidence of this do-more-for-less philosophy was Panasonic’s pre-NAB press conference in Manhattan Wednesday, even though there was nothing austere about the Tribeca Grand Hotel venue.
The big news was the AG-HPX-300, a new P2 HD camcorder that Panasonic trumpeted as the “first affordable 10-bit, 4:2:2 camera.”
I don’t know really know what those numbers mean, but I get “affordable.” The list price is $10,700 including Fujinon lens, and Panasonic execs hinted that it would actually sell for 20 percent less.
The HPX-300 has the look and feel and, I’m told, much of the functionality of high-priced camcorders, including Panasonic’s own AJ-HPX-2000, which has also been marketed as a broadcast camera.
Among the trade-offs is picture quality, but as another prominent camera maker told me at another New York of gathering of tech types in December, the watch word for 2009 is “good enough” and the HPX-300 pictures are certainly “good enough.”
“This is what the station market has been looking for,” Joe Facchini, Panasonic’s director of product marketing, assured me. “The days of the $30,000 or $40,000 news camera are way behind us.”
Panasonic is a big part of this trend now, but was not on the leading edge.
In fact, Panasonic made clear that it was positioning the HPX-300 against two other low-cost cameras already in wide use: JVC’s ProHD GY-HD250 camcorder and Sony’s XDCAM PMW-EX 3. Like the HPX-300, the JVC and Sony units list for around $10,000.
Significantly, all three of the cameras can be configured for use as studio cameras for about the third of the price of full-featured conventional studio cameras.
So, the deal is, a station group can move to full-blown HD news in the studio and in the field with single, all-purpose camera. Think of the savings in training and maintenance, too.
In our news sharing arrangement with the Sports Video Group, TVNewsCheck is preparing a series of reports on various categories of equipment that will be posted each Thursday between now and the NAB Show.
I’m not giving too much away by telling you that the common theme will be savings and efficiencies.Check out the story on graphics that we will post next Thursday.
If you’re a broadcast tech vendor and savings and efficiency are not what you are selling, you might as well cancel your NAB booth and stay home. That’s all the broadcasters will be buying.
Del Parks, Sinclair’s matter-of-fact engineering VP, was clear in the NAB advance story we posted on Thursday: “We’re not looking to make any major purchases, and just want to see what the state of art is in terms of features and functions. Anything that creates operational efficiency will catch my eye.”
Harris is listening. In a webinar this morning, the vendor laid out its broadcast strategy that is nothing but efficiency.
The strategy centers on a scalable, end-to-end “advanced media workflow” that will allow TV stations to bring in video in any format, from cell phone to 1080p; package it into programs with commercials; and then spit it out for distribution on any platform — broadcast, Web, mobile or whatever.
Nobody is against less expensive products — cameras, for instance, that do much the same job as the older models at a third of the price.
But efficiency often takes a human toll. When a station installs new automation systems, the savings and ROI usually comes in the form of layoffs and reduced payroll.
Nobody talks about it, but that’s what it is.
In the best of all possible worlds, stations would take the savings from automation and reinvest them in new businesses that would drive new revenue. The stations could then redeploy rather than fire employees or maybe even hire some new ones. Wouldn’t that be something?
Unfortunately, we live in the real world, and right now too many broadcasters in that world need to cut costs simply to keep investors and lenders at bay.
So, new technology may not help the rank and file, but it could save some owners and managers during the current crunch and ultimately the medium itself.
From what TVNewsCheck is reporting and from what I am hearing, stations groups are cutting back drastically on the number of people they are sending to the NAB Show. This may be a case of being penny wise and pound foolish.
The vendors may not have all of the answers, but they appear to have some of them.
Harry A. Jessell is editor of TVNewsCheck. You may contact him directly at [email protected]