Could Electronic Equipment Shortages Caused By Japan Disaster Hinder TV News Operations?

By Alex Weprin 

As the disaster in Japan continues to play out, the threat of electronic equipment shortages becomes a real possibility.

For a business so dependent on technology, television news organizations could be severely affected by any shortages.

Sony and Panasonic are two of the largest providers of professional technology to TV networks. Both are also based in Japan, and have a heavy manufacturing presence there. In addition to cameras and equipment, the companies also manufacture the tape used by television and movie production outfits. The CEO of Edgewise Media/Comtel Pro Media, David Cohen, noted the potential implications in an interview with B&C:

Shortages of the HDCam SR tapes “is a crisis,” Cohen explained in an interview. “A lot of people haven’t grasped its importance yet, but this will have a worldwide impact that people are going to have to think about and manage.”

In today’s NY Times, Sony is featured in a story on the front page of the business section, where the possibility of shortages is downplayed:

Although the uncertain nuclear situation has kept the anxiety level high, Sony appears to have escaped the earthquake and tsunami with relatively light losses. Manufacturing had not been decimated — in fact, far from it: The company operates 41 factories worldwide and two of the eight stricken plants in Japan were able to resume at least some operations fairly quickly. A Sony spokeswoman said there was no timeline for how long it might take others to reopen, however.

Of course, that is not necessarily reassuring  to TV news engineers and technology executives, as a tipster notes:

Factory in Japan that makes HDCAM tape and XDCAM discs closed bcs. of earthquake and not making any media…NBC worried about HD tape stock supplies, ABC worried about XDCAM disc supplies. CBS also is an XDCAM shop, as is CNN. Fox News uses P2 solid state media,and has no real problems with tape supplies.

Beyond tape, a source familiar with TV news technology notes that replacement parts could become an issue. If a component of an expensive Sony or Panasonic camera breaks, the network can’t just go to Best Buy and pick up a replacement. Many replacement parts need to be ordered direct from the manufacturer.