Friday, September 13, 2013

Shame on the Evening News...

Just the other night I was watching both NBC Nightly News and CBS Evening News and they featured an obituary for a Hollywood celebrity... and the networks decided to include snippets from the actor's motion pictures... with horrible picture quality! For the record, I pretty much stopped watching the evening news a few years ago when I discovered that the majority of the news items are publicizing their own interests (NBC hypes up a motion picture released through Universal Studios, etc.) and most of the news is depressing anyway. After all, is that not why people joke that "there's nothing good on the news" anyway? Why don't they feature up-lifting news items? Anyway, the only time I watch the news now is when my wife calls me in to watch an obituary on a Hollywood celebrity and this is where I am having a issue with.

For more than a year and a half, I have observed where the networks, rather than send a page out to rent a DVD so they can excerpt a clip from the disc, they choose to use YouTube as a venue... forgetting that what looks good on a five inch screen on the computer does not look good when telecast nationwide on larger screens. And such horrible pixeled images are showing up more common on major programs such as Today and Good Morning America

Allow me to explain. The picture quality will never be 100% perfect when it originates from YouTube because the video has to be processed and prepared for delivery over the internet, and footage on YouTube (in general) is already compressed down to the smallest file possible so people can watch the clip without waiting for the system to spent an hour downloading the entire film clip. This always entails some loss of quality. For years, news programs used film footage from their libraries when more recent images were not readily available. But the networks now choose to visit YouTube and other internet websites using software to pluck the film clip off the internet. Now, if you plan to do this yourself and have no problems watching the films restricted to a five inch screen on your computer, it will look no different than what you see on YouTube. But blown up on a 40 inch television screen, telecast on the evening news in High Definition, you get picture quality that looks like this (see below).

An excellent example of how it looks on the evening news!
Most people are not ignorant when it comes to old movie footage so when I asked the local news once in an e-mail why this is happening, they claimed the footage was from an old movie and an old movie is always going to look horrible. That is what I call blame shifting. We know the difference between a Super 8, a 16mm and a 35mm nitrate transfer. Saying the old movie footage was just "old" doesn't mean it is going to be pixelated. Anyone who makes a living processing old movie footage from archival prints will tell you that picture quality is dependent on the hardware, software and most importantly... the source material.

Screen capture from a 35mm nitrate archival master.

Screen Capture from a 16mm print, a step down from the 35mm nitrate.

Evening News pixeled quality. Imagine this on a 40 inch screen.

What the networks are doing is the equivalent of using footage from a sixteenth-generation print from a 20 year old VHS video. Why not take the extra effort and go to source material that is far superior? Is there not a DVD rental company near by? 

For the record, my wife and I watch television in High Definition. Yes, the system is hooked up correctly and everything is brand spankin' gorgeous. I can even see the sweat coming from the pores on the anchorman's forehead. All the settings on our receiver and television screen is set to perfection. The rest of the evening news is gorgeous. It's only the stock footage they use that looks terrible. There is nothing wrong with the equipment my wife and I use to watch television. And this is just the picture quality -- we haven't even begun with the frame skipping that is common with the method they use to pluck stock footage from YouTube. (And that is the biggest tip-off where their source material comes from.)

On a side note, our local news stations and newspapers in Baltimore, Maryland, won't even promote non-profit events that feature Hollywood celebrities unless we pay them for commercial space -- they won't say that outright, but they word their sentences over the phone in a way that implies this -- and I am not alone. I have complained to the local Chamber of Commerce who verbally told me that they get that complaint too often.

So my question is this.... why would the evening news not want to provide us with the best picture quality when screening excerpts of old movies and television programs? Is this not a bad reflection on the network? Is this not disrespectful to the actor or actress they are trying to recognize?

1 comment:

Stephen Bowie said...

Martin, if you're talking about national news broadcasts that are being produced out of New York, there literally is only one halfway well-stocked video rental store in lower Manhattan. The Public Library still circulates a lot of DVDs, but it's hard to find something specific in a short amount of time. There are also only a few stores left that sell catalog DVDs in any quantity. That's not to excuse this practice, but to point out that it would take a fairly knowledgeable local cinephile, not just a random intern, to find a specific title here on a few hours' notice. (Same goes for finding a better-than-Youtube quality copy to swipe from the 'net.) If I'm trying to round up screeners for a writing deadline, it's a huge pain, and I usually have a lot more lead time than one would for an obit.

A sad state of affairs.

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