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Republicans' Betamax Media Strategy

By Michael D. Shear
It's a given that the Republicans are struggling to keep up with the fundraising prowess of Sen. Barack Obama.

So why would a unit of the RNC decide that it's cost effective to mail this reporter copies of its 30-second ads on physical video tapes?

Every week, the ads come, inserted into grey-colored cases and nicely labeled and stuffed into a large white envelope that is mailed to my office at The Post in Washington, D.C.

The ads, which are freely available on YouTube, are most likely aimed at television stations, which might have reason to air a broadcast-quality version.

But this reporter writes for a print and online newspaper, which has no need of that kind of tape.

Nonetheless, today I was curious to compare how the studio-quality ads might compare to their Internet cousins.

When I opened the cases, I discovered that was not to be.

The ads are recorded on Betamax tapes.

Betamax is the video recording technology that lost the videotape format wars of the 1970s to VHS, more than a decade before the advent of DVDs.

Brad Todd, who runs On Message Inc., and is directing the independent expenditure arm of the RNC, said the tapes are aimed at "DC-based broadcast/online bureaus" and was probably sent to me by mistake.

"They always want air-quality copy. Sending proactively saves them and us a phone call. At some point, we must have had a request from your online division? Or just a clerical error?" he said.

But Todd had a suggestion.

"Look at it one of two ways -- you're either the luckiest collector of political memorabilia in America or The Post has some free Beta tapes you can hawk on eBay to bargain hunting producers," Todd said. "After all, times are tough in the newspaper biz. Every little bit of revenue helps, right?"

By Web Politics Editor  |  October 20, 2008; 7:06 PM ET
Categories:  John McCain , New Media  
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Well, in trying to make the McCain campaign look out of date, you only succeeded in showing the world that YOU are out of date. You should apologize for this post and correct it. But, I'm sure you won't, because you're rooting for Obama.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | October 22, 2008 1:32 PM | Report abuse

i'm a democrat. i'm voting obama... but i also produce TV commercials, and i'll bet you these are BetaSP tapes, not Betamax tapes. many stations still use BetaSP for their commercial dubs. this is likely a non-story.

Posted by: whitepatrick | October 21, 2008 7:22 PM | Report abuse

I don't want to bump my own post, but judyminot has it right on the betamax-betaSP issue.

The Shears post was pegged to McCain using a dinosaur format (betamax) (which is most likely untrue), due to insufficient fact checking by desk editors.

I'm all Obama, but this "dinosaur" tape theory plays unfairly against McCain, however trivially. It should be withdrawn or re-edited.

Posted by: tuckedaway | October 21, 2008 5:01 PM | Report abuse

If Sarah Palin had made a mistake like Mr. Shear's, everybody would call her an idiot. I'm not even in the broadcast industry, and I know they use the beta format. It's not Betamax, Shear. Fix your post.

Posted by: DennisfromtheBronx | October 21, 2008 1:47 PM | Report abuse

If Sarah Palin had made a mistake like Mr. Shear's, everybody would call her an idiot. I'm not even in the broadcast industry, and I know they use the beta format. It's not Betamax, Shear. Fix your post.

Posted by: DennisfromtheBronx | October 21, 2008 1:46 PM | Report abuse

Is this a joke? A Post reporter doesn't stop to wonder why he is holding a Betamax tape, a format that hasn't been in use for years? Even to wonder whether what he is looking at is even Betamax?

And now this story is being linked on the Internet as an example of how out of touch McCain is....

Unreal. It just fit the McCain is old stereotype so well it must be true, right?

Posted by: ghokee | October 21, 2008 12:57 PM | Report abuse

As a broadcast producer I am 99.99999% certain you were sent BetaCAM or BetaSP (most likely) tapes - and since most people don't read down to the comments, where many others seem to agree with me - I hope you'll revise, retract, or repost this article before it gets widely copied, because it unfairly slams the McCain campaign for using dinosaur technology. If I (and others) are right, shame on you, "journalist," for not checking your facts in the face of a deadline and a cool headline! Yes, they should trim their mailing lists and yes, they should send you a youtube link but no, they are not sending you BetaMAX tape.

Posted by: judyminot | October 21, 2008 11:54 AM | Report abuse

Thanks tuckedaway.

Enthusiasts note these are both digital tape formats.

Digital file formats are still too large for easy delivery in part because we're still so stinkin' far behind on broadband.

Posted by: JohnQuimby | October 21, 2008 1:35 AM | Report abuse

Just to clear this up: Betamax was Sony's consumer format that lost out to VHS in the 80s. These tapes are essentially obsolete.

I'm sure the tape Michael Shear was sent is a Betacam SP or DigiBeta, (note: neither is *betamax*).

Betcam SP is an analog professional video format commonly used to distribute programming and commercials to broadcast outlets. Its digital version is labeled DigiBeta,

I do agree it's odd to send tape to a new media journalist--it's also expensive, as the tapes aren't cheap.

Posted by: tuckedaway | October 20, 2008 10:49 PM | Report abuse

I hear they're talking with the Captain and Tennille about a possible endorsement. Stay tuned for the 8-track.

Posted by: bokonon13 | October 20, 2008 10:49 PM | Report abuse

Re:Media producers still have to deliver broadcast spots on beta because broadcast outlets have been really slow to get up to speed on digital formats.

I have worked at many small and medium market broadcast companies, both TV and radio,and I can promise that they have been all digital since the mid-nineties. Don't confuse the production capabilities(Digital) with the broadcast(over the air). I have never seen a betamax player in a professional broadcasting company. It just goes to show ya...the internets is a series of tubes..this is the kind of government we could expect from a McCain-Palin administration.

Posted by: bproulx45 | October 20, 2008 8:51 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Shear

I agree with info42

Yes, they could have sent you a link to YouTube or a compressed file and that would have made sense. But in a campaign full of stupid policy this is a stupid one to pick on.

Media producers still have to deliver broadcast spots on beta because broadcast outlets have been really slow to get up to speed on digital formats.

The campaign is sending you a master so that whatever you do to link to their media it will look as good as possible.

I'm one donkey who love to kick the GOP, but this is lame reporting.

Posted by: JohnQuimby | October 20, 2008 8:37 PM | Report abuse

info42 and Left_of_the_Pyle
Big difference between BetaMax and BetaCam.

I've NEVER known a single television station to use the BetaMax format and I've been shooting video professionally since 1985.
However, I still see BetaCam used though less and less nowadays.

Posted by: JRM2 | October 20, 2008 8:32 PM | Report abuse

More stupidity from the Compost, which looks for any reason to dump on McCain.

Beta tapes are not out-of-date. They are still heavily used in broadcast. This is the format any television station would likely require to broadcast those commercials. Five minutes of research could've told you that.

And you already know why the tapes were sent to you -- it was by mistake.

Posted by: info42 | October 20, 2008 8:14 PM | Report abuse

Just be glad that they're not sending you stuff on wax-cylinders!

Posted by: thenotoriousflavio | October 20, 2008 7:41 PM | Report abuse

As of 9 or 10 years ago, Betamax was still the standard for shooting campaign ads and videos (that was the last time I did lots of campaign ads and videos). Though I never had the equipment, our producer would always provide me the original betas of A & B reels if we needed them in the future.

But they were always dubbed to VHS for handouts and to some larger format for sending to stations.

Posted by: Left_of_the_Pyle | October 20, 2008 7:31 PM | Report abuse

In other media news, Governor Palin has been increasingly accessible to the national media (and SNL). By contrast, Biden hasn’t held a press conference in more than a month, and Obama hasn’t taken questions from his full traveling press corps since the end of September.

In the past two days alone, Palin has answered questions from her national press corps on three separate occasions. On Saturday, she held another plane availability, and on Sunday, she offered an impromptu press conference on the tarmac upon landing in Colorado Springs. A few minutes later, she answered even more questions from reporters during an off-the-record stop at a local ice cream shop.

Posted by: MarkInAustin | October 20, 2008 7:15 PM | Report abuse

Do "DC-based broadcast/online bureaus" use Betamax?

Posted by: MarkInAustin | October 20, 2008 7:10 PM | Report abuse

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