Conference Review: You Never Stop Learning in This Business The Eastern Video Expo: A Personal Reflection

by Geoffrey Bellefonte, Cable Committee, Summit TV

I hate to admit it, but I’ve been in this business for almost 50 years. During that time, I have attended numerous trade show and conferences as both a potential client and as an exhibitor. Because of my experience at trade shows, I was genuinely concerned when JAG decided to stage this year’s Eastern Video Expo virtually. Of course, during the pandemic, I attended other virtual trades shows and numerous workshops on a variety of topics, but, in the few years I have been associated with JAG, I have come to really look forward to meeting with all my colleagues at the show. That said, I must confess, I was pleasantly surprised at how informative, and in some cases entertaining this year’s virtual conference proved to be.

One of the things I have learned over the years is that you never stop learning in this business. Whether it’s hearing about the latest technology or discussing how to better tell a story, there’s always something new to absorb. From the perspective of a person who has been creating some form of communications my entire professional life, I found the workshops that dealt with storytelling, interviewing techniques, editing and lighting fascinating and informative. I know I’m probably not the best person to address those workshops since I hosted several of them, but I really did learn something from the impressive list of professionals that participated in the panels. It’s always good to hear how others find their ideas, pitch them and then go about organizing the production. No two stories are ever the same, and no two executions ever go as expected. Knowing how to identify the important parts of your story, and being able to pivot if something doesn’t go as planned, are truly important when you are creating documentary programming.

It’s also important to understand different organizational techniques, and the methods people use to collaborate with a creative team. Clearly, collaboration has changed because of Covid 19 and will probably continue to change as technology evolves. No longer are you expected to get on an airplane to pitch a show; no longer do you have to be in the same room or even the same state as your editor; and no longer do you have to attend large recording sessions as the composer works with your footage. While I might miss those elements of the “creative” process, these are the realities of creating media in the post pandemic 21st century and it’s truly helpful to hear about them from those who create award winning programming. Of course, learning how to better light an interview seems like something I’ve been working on my entire professional life!

Although I personally may be partial to the workshops that dealt with the creation of compelling programming, there were certainly other elements to the Eastern Video Expo that were informative. As we all face the coming need to closed caption, it was valuable to learn about the options available to help us serve the hearing-impaired community. I also continue to be impressed by the changes that companies like TelVue and Cablecast make in their products to make our jobs as program directors and station managers easier. In addition, it continues to amaze me how integrators like Varto Technologies use these new tools to make our productions look better and reach more people through new streaming technologies. I also was able to learn more about social media marketing and analytics, something that mystifies old farts like me. Finally, it’s important to hear about the new methods of over-the-top distribution that are available to our channels. These tools will surely become more significant to PEG channels in the ever-changing media landscape.

Compared to others, I am relatively new to the world of PEG and Community media. I am always fascinated by the way things in Washington affect the way we operate. In my previous life, all I had to worry about was getting a program done, making it to length, delivering it on time, staying within the budget, and making it great. Now there’s a whole world in DC which I need to understand so I can evaluate what effect it will have on our business. I always find it interesting to hear about the things our legislators find important. The lawyers and directors of the various organizations that represent us always seem to have an interesting perspective on what we need to do to advance the things that are important to our JAG members. The Eastern Video Expo always seems to give them a forum to keep us up to date on what’s going on, and our legislator of the year, Congressman Donald Payne reminded us all of the important work we do.

Finally, our virtual conference wasn’t just informative, but it was entertaining as well. Simon Mandal made a potential dull keynote speech fun and informative. His performance on the virtual red carpet and at the JAG awards made the evening enjoyable even if you didn’t win. Did I miss seeing everyone in person? You bet, but did I find the virtual Eastern Video Expo informative and entertaining—absolutely, and I didn’t even have to get dressed and drive to a hotel to prove that you can still teach an old dog new tricks.