Keith Olbermann Has a Point Regarding the Quality of Current TV’s Production Values

By Alex Weprin 

One of the points of contention between Keith Olbermann and Current TV allegedly concerns production values. Olbermann’s program has had a number of technical glitches since debuting on Current, some of which are to be expected, but many of which were inexcusable, most notably lost satellite feeds and an incident where the lights went out in the middle of the program last month.

“Countdown” has been broadcasting with a Charlie Rose-esque black backdrop ever since the lighting incident.

Olbermann has a point regarding Current’s production values. Poor production values can have a serious impact in how viewers perceive a program, as noted by NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen:


Putting aside the editorial content, compare the clips below, one from a recent episode of “Countdown” and another from Glenn Beck’s web series on GBTV. In both cases the videos just happened to be the first ones I clicked “play” on. Updated Below.

The production quality of Beck’s show is remarkably high, with a large set, full HD picture, many video screens that can feature satellite feeds, as well as multiple cameras, including a Steadicam that follows Beck as he moves through his set. The quality isn’t perfect (when we visited Beck’s show there was a major TelePrompTer glitch) but is very very good.

The “Countdown” set isn’t bad per se, but it also isn’t close to Beck’s in terms of size or design. It is simply a desk and a screen. Even more glaringly, Current and “Countdown” are not available in HD.

Update: TVNewser has learned that both Current and GBTV utilize the production services of NEP, meaning that any difference in production quality is the result of the teams and technology respectively.

On the night of the Iowa Caucus, the special programming featured a slightly nicer set, but the production quality wasn’t quite there, and it drew complaints from viewers.

Perception is important, and it is a big reason why traditional media companies have a huge edge over online video startups. The cost of producing a TV show that looks like it belongs on TV is very high, and requires many people with special skills. If a program falls short of that production quality minimum, viewers take notice.

Current TV may not have the cash that an MSNBC or CNN has, but that isn’t an excuse. If Glenn Beck can produce a quality-looking show with cash out of pocket, Current should have no trouble producing one. So far, however, it has failed to do so.