Challenging times

I am writing this on 18 March, but only 77 days in 2011 is proving to be a momentous year for global events.
We started out with catastrophic floods in Australia, then the earthquake in Christchurch. I once spent a wonderfully happy day in Christchurch, and it was, at least until 22 February, without doubt the loveliest small city I have ever visited.
A particular sadness for me and for our industry is that one of the buildings that was completely destroyed was the local production base for CTV. Making good local television in somewhere as beautiful as Christchurch must have seemed a dream job.
At the same time the spirit of revolution is growing in the Middle East and North Africa, starting relatively painlessly in Egypt but growing more and more uncomfortable in previous peaceful places like Bahrain. As I write, it looks as though the West is going to be intervening in the civil war in Libya.
And finally there was the massive earthquake off Japan. That led to the tsunami which caused such destruction, wiping out whole communities and causing loss of life on a scale we will probably never fully understand. In the path of the tsunami was the nuclear power station at Fukushima, taking out much of its infrastructure which in turn has led to fears of radiation leaks. By the time you read these words, in a couple of weeks time, we will know much more about the integrity of the structure.
The awful devastation in Japan has been brought home to us by the sheer amount and quality of the video footage. This is not shakycam or mobile phone clips but well shot HD of the water as it tore through towns, a tribute to the bravery as well as the skill of the camera operators.
You do not need me to remind you of any of these events: the news is filled with the sadness of it all. But I have been reflecting on what it might mean for our industry in the coming months.
News directors everywhere are, I am sure, weeping over their budgets as they despatch reporters and presenters to the latest hotspots, following additional safety and survival training. They struggle over the logistics of shipping flyaway satellite uplinks from Tripoli to Tokyo. Crews are robbed of time with their families: I know of one engineer who had barely returned from the Tunisia/Libya border before being summoned to Osterley ready for the first available flight to Japan.
But this issue of TV-Bay will be published for NAB, and with so many leading manufacturers being Japanese, we have to wonder how they will cope with the coming crises.
Whatever happens to the Fukushima power plant, I think we can all be certain that it will not be generating any power in the foreseeable future. That is currently leading to power reductions across Japan. If as a result of the Fukushima situation other power nuclear installations are also taken offline temporarily that would lead to a massive power shortage, which could severely restrict the manufacturing ability of the country.
I am already hearing stories that it is becoming harder to find stocks of HDCam tapes. The price of flash memory chips has already soared 20%.
There is also an economical element to the problem. Perhaps counter-intuitively, the value of the Japanese yen went up in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami. We have all seen the devastation caused, the destruction of whole cities, and we can only begin to guess at the billions the reconstruction will cost.
So the Japanese government, and the insurance companies, have to move money out of overseas investments and repatriate the funds, which pushed up the value of the yen. Now the G7 group of countries has intervened in an attempt to stabilise the currency but how long we can continue to manage the market is unclear to me – the rest of the world has its economic problems, too.
It seems likely to me, then, that the impact will continue for some time after the initial shock has faded. We may find ourselves in the difficult position of wondering whether to entrust our business with a Japanese company because of security of supply and cost, when we know that our moral responsibility is to stick with those manufacturers who have been such powerful allies and partners in the past. It is not going to be an easy dilemma to resolve.
For those of you who turn to the back page of TV-Bay for the usual light-hearted whimsy, I apologise but it did not seem appropriate just at the moment. My thanks go to all the reporters, camera operators, recordists and engineers who are braving privations and personal danger to bring the news to our homes. It is vital in keeping us informed about our world.
For those of you making the trip to NAB, safe journey and I will see you there. We can, at least, all hope that we will be able to get home again this year.

Tags: iss052 | floods | ctv | tsunami | japan | devastation | Fukushima | hdcam tapes | N/A
Contributing Author N/A

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