Network Deliverables: What are they? How are they evolving? Why they matter! (1/3)

by David Kaplan

Producers and channels everywhere struggle with evolving definitions of ‘Network Deliverables’.

It’s a fast-changing field due to:

  • The rapid adoption of HD and file-based shooting
  • The take-up of digital exploitation technologies
  • And the steady expansion of the classic definition of ‘Deliverables’ 

David Kaplan has led the Quality Control team for the A&E Television Networks for the last eight years.

He has worked with “hundreds of producers on thousands of hours of programs in dozens of evolving formats.”  

In a three-part post, David Kaplan kindly shares with DocumentaryTelevision.com his expert understanding of the key issues related to Deliverables.

This week in part 1/3:

  • What are Deliverables?
  • Why they matter!

‘The Bible’

And also this week, Pamela Jones, Attorney, our Legal / Business Affairs expert, comments on the ‘Rights Bible’ as a key Deliverable.  Her Takeaway:

  • “No delivery of the ‘Rights Bible’ – no final payment!”

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Does Deliverables failure matter?

Every Deliverable failure creates additional expense for producers and scheduling complications for the channels.

In the worst cases, reputations are destroyed and lawyers are enriched.

And each case would have been avoidable if producers and networks had dedicated the time and resources to collaboratively anticipate and manage the Delivery process.

  • I once had a show fed in via satellite for air a few hours later
  • The producers had neglected to tell us they hadn’t added the necessary text to the show … people’s names and so forth
  • From then on, their name became synonymous with ‘horrible experience’
  • We did get the show texted and on the air
  • But we never bought another show from that supplier

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How frequent is Deliverables failure?

Our QC process rejects up to 50% percent of Deliverables on one level or another.

The major Deliverable failures are due to:

  • Flash frames (+/-25%)
  • Resolution issues (+/-25%)
  • Audio levels/mix (+/-25%)
  • Bad edits
  • Mixed frame rates
  • Faulty tape stock
  • Luminance/Color shifts
  • Graphics errors, and others

These are repairable. How often are Deliverables problems so serious that an airdate is rescheduled?

  • Less than 5% of premieres are missed, and those are usually dealt with by rescheduling
  • We often take in shows with less than 6-7 hours to air, and still get them on
  • Even so, we ALWAYS have backup shows ready to go on air when we have news that a major delivery issue is risking our schedule

Who makes the fixes?

Producers often call us and request that we make a fix. Sometimes we do.

When producers are paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for a show, our strong feeling is that the commissioner shouldn’t have to spend additional resources to fix them.

  • For example, a recent show was delivered close to air with a misspelled lower 3rd (a ‘strap’ in UK terminology), and a jumpy sequence
  • We made in-house fixes to the air master version because of time pressure
  • The original masters were returned to the producers for the same fixes

It’s understood that high profile shows are under a lot of pressure, and that producers scramble to make the best creative decisions up until the very last moment

  • That is a Red Zone for those of us who work on the network side
  • Because the later the delivery, the higher the chance that something was missed or that a mistake went unnoticed

In another case, a UK producer called at the last minute about audio splits and how they were required to be parsed out.

  • We conference-called with her audio team, and agreed on the best solution
  • She made the fix, but the issue almost caused a missed International airdate

How has the definition of ‘Deliverables’ evolved?

Deliverables used to be comprised of:

  • SD Digibeta or IMX tape/s 
  • Standard audio track assignments
  • A multi-track DA88 tape
  • Scripts, cue sheets and ‘Rights Bibles’

These have now morphed into an array of even more technically-defined tapes and digital files:

  • The package varies across networks and even within channel groups, depending on the needs of individual commissioners
  • Shooting and editing formats and  frame rates have become more important
  • File-based shooting now requires digital archiving and storage planning

Deliverables can become even more complex in co-productions involving multiple owners

What are the Deliverables typically itemized in your contracts?

Our networks provide producers, post-supervisors and audio-supervisors with a comprehensive Deliverables Handbook. It’s 40+ pages long, and packed with detail!

Below is a very partial list of Deliverables. Each represents an area that can be tricky, and that differs from channel to channel:

  • Texted and Textless tapes
  • SD down-converts of those tapes
  • Digital versions
  • Short Form material (tape and/or file based)
  • Pulled black versions (entire program as one segment)
  • M&E Tracks with (or without) dipped music
  • Firewire drives with original, file-based footage

There are also varying definitions and rules for material such as:

  • Audio splits
  • What constitutes ‘Textless’?
  • Title Safety guidelines, which were recently revised by many networks
  • Captioning and Credits policies
  • Time-coded scripts
  • Rights ‘Bibles’
  • Short Form and webisodes

Each of these elements is subject to various caveats and ‘What-ifs’.

Just as every program or series is editorially unique, each Deliverable element can present a unique set of challenges and questions. The solutions determine the shelf life and future repurposing of the material.

The ‘Rights Bible’ is a whole other Deliverable. We asked Pamela Jones, our Legal / Business Affairs expert, to briefly comment on how ‘The Bible’ fits in?

For producers to get paid, they have to pass the ‘Bible Test’.

There’s no way around it for Producers. 

  • Deliverables, whether technical or ‘paper’, must be delivered accurately, completely and on time
  • No delivery of the ‘Rights Bible’ – no final payment

Networks will generally hold back ten percent (10%) of the total production budget until all deliverables are submitted and approved.

What is ‘The Bible’?

The ‘Rights Bible’ is a vast collection of original, signed, third-party service agreements, footage and music licenses, etc.

The ‘Rights Bible’ is ‘proof positive’ that the producer has acquired all of the agreed-upon rights required under the commissioning agreement. 

But note:

  • In addition to the ‘Rights Bible’ there are additional paper Deliverables, including but not limited to certificates of insurance. 
  • These are not ‘rights-related’ and must be submitted.

Today, ‘Rights Bibles’ can be submitted electronically to networks such as AETN and Discovery. 

  • The ‘old fashion’ 3-ring binder is used to submit the ‘Rights Bible’ to other channels. 

Whichever the delivery method, producers always read through the network’s ‘Tech Specs’ at the start of pre-production in order to process all of the legal paperwork to satisfy the network’s rights and clearance standards and requirements.

Next Post: Deliverables 2/3

David Kaplan continues his expert commentary on:

  • The impact of new digital distribution platforms like iTunes
  • Have network digital workflows stabilized?
  • Metadata
  • Frame rates
  • And much, much more

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SPEAKING ENGAGEMENTS

REALSCREEN 2011
Workshop with A&E’s Stephen Harris
January 31, 2011, Washington DC
Getting Your Concept to the Side of the Bus:
A Network Insider’s Guide to
Greenlighting a Factual Program
Improve your chances of success as you learn what’s inside the minds of network executives as they take pitches, buy in to them, promote the strongest concepts to their colleagues, budget productions, and fight for the final sign off. 
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AIDC
Australian International Documentary Conference
1-4 March 2011, Adelaide, Australia
Watch out for details
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Documentary Campus
in association with the
One World Film Festival
New Directions in Human Rights Documentaries
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Watch out for details
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2 comments

  1. Mr. Kaplan has hit the nail on the head! Congratulations on a well written and most often forgotten part of the puzzle.
    We deal with lots of independent producers who are finally at the point of delivering their Masters to the networks and cable channels and suddenly realize they’ve forgotten to add tone and color bars, closed captioning, correct their audio levels and the list goes on and on! Usually they come to us within days of delivering their masters. The good thing is we do everything in house and are able to expedite the processes within 24-48 hours and make the deadlines. I will most definitely forward this article to my network and post it on our website once we’ve finished renovating it…

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