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Operations Management and Sunny Days
Tuesday, August 15, 2006

I was on vacation at a cottage in Grand Bend two weeks ago. Aside from going back to my natural colour (winter lightens me), I noted two things of importance: first, the world doesn't stop because I am not around; and second, TV network programming across the country is all the same (literally).

Grand Bend is located at the edge of lake Huron. It is a touristy town with a population of 1,067. Spending time there feels like detaching from the "real" world. The happenings of society seem inconsequential. I had to really make an effort to inform myself of the goings of the world, which brings me to monotony of the news in the country.

The big TV networks such as CTV, City TV, and Global feed the same product, respectively, to most regions in Canada. These networks have the business of selling news and commercials down to a formula that can be copied from region to region, city to city, and small town to small town.

Although there are "national" programs that are played unchanged in every region (CTV News or W5, for example), "local" programming, which is news mostly, is only varied by the newscasters and minor local content--the backgrounds, music, and color schemes of the studios stay the same.

This sameness seems freaky while away because it feels that it doesn't matter where you are everything is the same. So I watched Alberta local news and everything seemed normal to me: cops were arresting people, the local baseball team won, there was a fire on King street, etc., etc. I felt like I belonged because I was equally scared of the same demons the whole nation was, however ironic, I was only surrounded by 1,064 peaceful Grand-Benites (note that people around beaches and the sun are much more friendlier than city folk).

Aside from being fed the same stories as the rest of the nation, however abnormal all these rehearsed scripts, music, and uniformity in backgrounds seem, from an Operational and Statistical Quality stand point of view, the monotony makes sense. If I owned a large network like CTV, I wouldn't do anything different. And they don't: network TV is consolidated and owned by few hands (or corporations), hence, it is in their best interest to be the same everywhere.

The secret is to control variability across each region. Why? It's always variability that screws things up by reducing the quality of anything manufactured. I wrote about this in a Software Engineering context, but the news world abides by the same principles: control variability; manage quality.

Variability control comes in two facets: social control, and operational control. There is too much that can be said about the first, and for this entry I am only interested in the latter.

So this is my operational analysis: the franchise model used by large networks because it is easy to implement everywhere. The model is cross functional, expandable, and transferable. I look at it like the McDonalds model: you always know what your getting as soon as you see those golden arches. So when the franchise model is implemented to sell ad space on TV, you know what you'll be getting whenever that music starts playing at night.

One question I asked myself after watching Alberta news was that if I was better informed or better off than I was before watching TV that day. I concluded that I was not. I was only slightly anxious about everything around me. This is one of the reason I don't have cable (or drink coffee).

  1. I should say that my simple analysis is based on observation only; I haven't worked for a TV station, ever. My media experience is limited to a contract I did at The Toronto Star online newspaper, in Toronto, and it was purely a software development role.

  2. I really don't know how they make all newscasters sound the same. I think broadcasting schools have special classes to teach the intonation and elongation of words according to news "genre." If students want to specialize in sport's broadcasting they need to speak fast; for regular news, students learn to have a concerned face and speak in specific tones and put the emphasis of every sentence in the last 2 or 3 words; for weather forecasting they probably teach students how keep arms moving at all times to the green screen on the back.

  3. According to a wiki article, "National Geographic says that Grand Bend has one of the 10 most beautiful sunsets in the world, which is thought to be attributable to the high levels of particulate matter that flow into the area from the Ohio Valley." I really don't know if this is true, since the article doesn't have a specific National Geographic reference. However, I can serve as witness that the sunsets two weeks ago were quite extraordinary.

7:58 AM | 0 comment(s) |


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