Not Broadcast Quality
By Grant Ainsley | Tips | [comments] | Posted [date]
We're now into the ninth month of the pandemic and TV networks continue to interview people over video from their homes and offices. TV now seems to be at the mercy of the computer equipment of the people being interviewed.
I've also seen something else. There are still a number of cases of TV networks interviewing their own people and getting some bad video or audio quality.
I noticed it again last week. The audio quality on an interview was terrible and the interview never should have aired, but the bar has been lowered too far by some TV networks. They need to do better.
Many years ago, when I ran the 96 K-Lite Radio newsroom in Edmonton, a young reporter returned from a City Council-related event at the Arden Theatre in St. Albert.
The reporter, who had recently started as a summer student, remembers the details better than I do, and said he made the mistake of sitting in row 10 in the theatre and holding the mic up to capture the sound from the speakers.
He said when he ran the audio quality past me, I got a frown on my face and uttered the words “Not broadcast quality.” I refused to allow any of the audio clips he had come back from the meeting with to go on air. It just wasn’t good enough and didn’t meet our standards.
That young reporter was Pat Kiernan. Pat must not have made too many other mistakes in his career, because for the past 23 years he’s been the morning news anchor at NY1 in New York. He has appeared in a long list of movies, either as himself or as a reporter and hosted game shows. He’s had an amazing career.
Over the years, when Pat and I have got together, usually through social media or over the phone, we’ve reminisced about that story. I first met Pat at an introductory radio news evening course I taught in Edmonton. Although still in university at the time, he was a natural and I hired him to help out in the newsroom over the summer before offering him a full-time job because he deserved it. I knew he was talented, but had no idea he would have the amazing career he has.
Pat seems to have recovered nicely from that traumatic audio quality incident in the late 80’s.
Big Budgets - Bad Audio
I thought about this story late last week after seeing Sportsnet reporter Michael Grange interviewed about the Toronto Raptors on the network's highlight show. Grange was apparently at home and did the interview from there. Although the quality of the video was fine, the audio quality was terrible. It sounded like he was being interviewed in a barrel and the microphone was at the bottom of it.
It’s not as if the pandemic started yesterday and suddenly reporters needed to shift from in-studio interviews to doing them from home. Sometime in the last eight months or so, TV networks should have figured out how to improve audio quality from the homes of their people. I’m not suggesting the audio quality should be the same as it is in-studio, but something passable would be nice.
I don’t mean to pick on Grange, because there are many, many other examples of poor audio quality from multi-million dollar TV networks. I noticed the same thing on the Rachael Ray Show. She’s being doing the show from her home and her audio quality has been awful. It just sounds hollow. It took PTI several weeks to improve the audio quality from Tony Kornheiser’s home too. ESPN couldn’t figure that problem out either.
In fairness to Sportsnet, just prior to the Michael Grange interview, I saw a similar interview done with one of its Blue Jays reporters Ben Nicholson-Smith. The audio quality from that interview was excellent.
The difference? He had a microphone right in front of him. It’s not rocket science. It can be done.
Few people have noticed this, but for the first time in TV history, it’s the person being interviewed and not the TV outlet that's responsible for the technical quality of the interview. Think about it. Let’s say a local television station is interviewing a doctor about the pandemic. It’s the doctor’s equipment being used for the interview, not the TV station’s like it was prior to the pandemic when in-person interviews were done. TV can no longer fully control the quality of the interviews it does.
I understand TV reporters now normally spend several minutes before interviewing people, instructing them to adjust the framing, lighting and location they’re sitting.
That’s not what the issue is here though. The issue I’m talking about is with reporters actually working for TV stations and networks. I can’t understand why every TV network hasn’t worked to upgrade the equipment of its reporters working from home. Did they think the pandemic was going to end after a few weeks and it wasn’t worth it?
The fix is a simple one. Get a decent microphone that can connect to the reporter’s laptop. That’s it. The mic can either sit in front of the reporter, so it’s close enough to provide good quality. It can also be placed on a boom arm, so the mic is out of the TV shot and suspended just above the reporter’s head. Both work.
Expecting the built-in computer microphone to produce decent quality is a mistake. I saw a former TV journalist being interviewed the other day. He was using earbuds and the quality was awful. I wonder if he would have allowed it to run on his station when he was still in the business?
Pat Kiernan suggests using a late model iPhone for the camera with a single fully-charged AirPod to deliver audio. He says it doesn't matter which ear is used. It works for him and seems like an easy fix.
Many of these people are being interviewed in dens or home offices, which provide challenges to produce good audio quality because they’re typically small and have nothing but hard surfaces like walls and hardwood floors for the sound to bounce off of. This can be corrected by placing some blankets and pillows around the room to help absorb the sound. The audio won’t be perfect, but it will be better.
I’m tired of getting such poor audio quality from big TV networks. After eight months, they should have this figured out. Be better.
Book Media Training Now for 2020
With Christmas now less than a month and a half away, make plans to get media training for your group before the end of the year. Rising COVID numbers may prevent everyone from getting together, but I also do media training virtually and it provides the same content and exercises.