Tech innovation turned holiday classic

rudolph_270x180Tuesday night at 8 p.m. ET/9 p.m. CT tech-innovation-turned-holiday-classic “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” will light up CBS’ air once again.

Rudolph was a pioneer. Not just because of its protagonist’s navigational prowess, but because of its “Animagic” method created by producers Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass.

At the time, there was nothing like it. From Rudolph and Frosty to the Abominable Snowman, Rankin/Bass Productions’ stop-motion animation has a distinctive look, recognizable for its doll-like characters with spheroid body parts, and powdery snow projected over the action to create the look of a blustering snowfall.

Over the years, fading and degeneration of the animation print caused the special to take on a reddish hue that differed significantly from the bluer tones and starker contrasts of the original. But in 1998, an ambitious color correction process restored the special to its original visual texture and color palette. Thanks to digital remastery, Santa’s elves regained their blue suits back after years of wearing faded green.

Today, the animation techniques used in the special have long since been eclipsed. Yet Rudolph remains powerful because of the creativity of its initial vision and the strength of the characters and story. Who could forget that shy reindeer and his misfit pal, Hermey the elf and a snowman version of Burl Ives singing “Silver and Gold”? Yet more proof that no matter what, good content outlasts changes in technology.

Tune in on Tuesday, November 29, to relive the magic with “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (8:00 -9:00 p.m. PT/ET) on CBS.

Read more information about the special.

The marvels of oak tag tech

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Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York.
(Credit: CBS Photo Archive)

Early in my career, I was assigned to be a production supervisor for CBS’s coverage of the Thanksgiving Day Parade.

While the official broadcast partner of the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has always been NBC, CBS has also been covering the event since 1960.

One of the challenges of providing secondary coverage is that your camera crews don’t get the best position. CBS historically had to stake out a spot early in the parade route, so early that the bands often didn’t know when they would be on. In fact, the year before, the bands were stone cold silent as they passed our cameras and microphones.

It was my job to change that. I knew the band members would want to share their music with the CBS audience, if only they knew they were on. With some guidance from my boss, I paid a kid $50 to stand six blocks ahead of our cameras holding a sign that read: “PLAY NOW FOR TV.”

We estimated that six blocks would give the band leaders enough time to communicate back to their members and get everyone in sync. And we were right! That message–four words written in thick magic marker on a piece of oak tag paper–made all the difference. Following that radical innovation, CBS audiences have heard great marching bands ever since. It’s a good reminder that the best technology communicates information in a simple, direct way.

Happy Thanksgiving and be sure to watch the Thanksgiving Day Parade on CBS, live from New York on Thursday, November 24.

The circus comes to town

The SEC on CBS bus. (Credit: George Schweitzer/CBS)

The SEC on CBS bus.
(Credit: George Schweitzer/CBS)

The CBS Sports College Football crew is the best in the biz.

Verne Lundquist, Gary Danielson, Tracy Wolfson, Coordinating Producer Craig Silver, and Director Steve Milton and the troop of dedicated professionals at CBS Sports make it look easy. It’s not. It takes technology, teamwork, and talent. Our team is on the road through the Southeastern Conference all fall, bringing the excitement of college football and the Saturday tradition to living rooms across America. “It’s really like the circus,” says Silver. “We roll our trucks into town. Set up for a few days, do the big show, and then it’s on to the next town.”

Marketing guy carries the flag, as they say. (Credit: CBS)

Marketing guy carries the flag, as they say.
(Credit: CBS)

While on-site, CBS employs locally as well as hiring hometown support for catering, transportation, lodging, technical assistance, and student interns to help as runners and PAs. So many things go into making the Saturday SEC broadcast a true adventure. I try to get to one game a year to visit with our CBS colleagues and stay on top of the latest technologies and trends in sports broadcasting. This year it was Alabama vs. LSU, the so-called “game of the century.”

I’ve worked with Craig and many of the crew for years–we were lucky enough to grow up together at CBS. Camera man extraordinaire Neil McCaffrey was with me on News and Sports early in my career. He also does the annual CBS Upfront from Carnegie Hall. Tech Manager Bob Jamieson was a superstar cameraman, and his father was a top exec at CBS Sales long ago. This is “family” for sure. I have the greatest respect and admiration for this group of expert professionals. And best of all, they are really good people to be with.

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Pregame view from the CBS Sports Booth–LSU vs. Alabama on November 5, 2011.
(Credit: George Schweitzer/CBS)

It was an electric night of football–both in the stadium and in homes across the country. The epic battle in Tuscaloosa between No. 1-seeded LSU and No. 2-seeded Alabama was the most watched regular season college game on CBS in 22 years, averaging 20 million viewers. Once again, events like this continue to prove the unique value of network television. In the end, LSU beat Alabama 9-6 in overtime. And Sunday morning, the CBS crew was packing up and heading to Athens, Georgia, for their next adventure.

Tune in next Saturday, November 12, for an @SEConCBS doubleheader. No. 22 Auburn @FootballAU at No. 18 University of Georgia @UGAAthletics at 3:30 p.m. ET, only @CBS!

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Yes, they do paint the grass. It’s not a technology trick, and if you don’t believe me, you should have seen my pants after taking this shot.
(Credit: George Schweitzer/CBS)

Word-of-mouth face-off: In-person conversation still dominates

Word of mouth has long been one of the most influential forms of marketing in the television business.

Simply put, word of mouth is a valuable recommendation from a trusted and respected friend. Voluminous research has shown that three industries benefit the most from word of mouth: restaurants, movies, and television.

With the addition of social media platforms, the impact and power of once “intangible” word-of-mouth is becoming more pronounced. Practically overnight, a whole industry focused on social media marketing and research has emerged promising brand marketers the ability to propel their businesses forward using these wonderful new tools to harness and influence consumer word of mouth.

image003(2)_270x208At CBS, we love to connect and engage directly with our viewers through social media on Facebook, Twitter, and whatever other platforms audiences are embracing. Through events like Tweet Week and the upcoming CBS Social Sweep Week, we give our fans a chance to interact with our shows and stars in real time. It’s all about enhancing enjoyment of our programs no matter how, when, or where viewers choose to engage with them. At the same time, we remain focused on the fact that the vast majority of conversations about TV shows–both new and returning series–still takes place face-to-face. According to research consultancy Keller Fay, online conversations account for less than 10 percent of word of mouth. So while the water cooler has now gone viral, people talking to people–face-to-face–is still the main driver and truest measure of overall buzz.

Our own CBS research consistently bears this out. More than 90 percent of conversation about new CBS shows this year occurred in person. Day after day, year after year, we strive to make our shows part of people’s lives so talking about them comes naturally. However and wherever people are talking about TV, we want to be there.