January 12, 2000
On CBS News, Some of What You See Isn't There
Join a Discussion on Television
By ALEX KUCZYNSKI
f you were watching the "CBS
Evening News" broadcast live from
Times Square on New Year's Eve,
you might have seen a billboard advertising CBS News out in the square
behind Dan Rather. You might have
looked at the well-placed billboard
and wondered just exactly how it
was that CBS was able to place its ad
The truth is, it didn't. The billboard
and the advertisement for CBS did
not exist. The image was digitally
imported onto the live CBS broadcast and used to obliterate real objects, the NBC jumbotron underneath the New Year's ball and a
Inserting digital images has become increasingly common in sports
and entertainment programming --
usually to insert advertising and corporate logos and first-down markers
in football -- but has generally been
considered out of line on news shows,
a type of programming in which the
assumption of reality is considered
sacrosanct and not informing viewers is considered a breach of journalistic guidelines.
CBS News, however, is using the
technology as part of a broad agreement signed last year with a technology company, Princeton Video Image. The technology has been used
regularly on "The Early Show" and
the news magazine "48 Hours" and
was used on "The Evening News" on
Dec. 30 and 31, according to CBS
News show logos that appear real
are being inserted on the sides of
structures, like the General Motors
building, on the back of a horse-drawn carriage in Central Park, in
the fountain outside the Plaza Hotel
and, on yesterday's "Early Show"
broadcast, in the center of Wollman
Rink. In some instances, the logo
clearly resembles a large billboard
advertising CBS News.
The use of the technology is part of
a multiyear deal that CBS signed
with Princeton Video Image to provide branding services for a variety
of CBS programs. "The Early Show"
has been the most ardent user of the
technology and has been using it
almost every day since the show's
debut on Nov. 1, making it appear
that a large promotional billboard is
attached to the General Motors
building, where the show originates.
"We were looking for some way to
brand the neighborhood with the CBS
logo," said Steve Friedman, the executive producer of "The Early
Show." "It's a great way to do things
without ruining the neighborhood.
Every day we have a different way
of using it, whether it's logos or outlines. And we haven't even scratched
the surface of its uses yet."
Mr. Friedman said that the practice did not press the boundaries of
ethical guidelines for CBS News.
"It does not distort the content of
the news," he said, and compared the
use of the technology to earlier visual
"I remember the hue
and cry when people started to use
graphics on news."
The CBS News deal with Princeton
Video Image was reported in the
Jan. 3 issue of the trade magazine
Broadcasting & Cable.
Eric Shapiro, the director of the
"CBS Evening News" and CBS News
Special Events, said he might use the
technology again on "Evening
News" and that the news division
examines each case individually before putting the virtual logos on the
air. "The technique, I find, works
best if you put it someplace where
there is intended to be something,"
he said. "If it feels that it is not
correct to use it, then we obviously
won't use it."
Mr. Rather, he said, knew about
the use of the virtual technology during the broadcast and did not protest.
"But he did not know in advance,"
Mr. Shapiro said. "These are not
things he needs to worry about. He
spends most of his time worrying
about the content of the broadcast.
But as a production technique he was
most certainly aware that it was
happening around him."
Mr. Rather did not return a phone
call seeking comment last night.
Bryant Gumbel and Jane Clayson,
anchors of "The Early Show," could
not be reached for comment
Harry Jessell, the editor of Broadcasting & Cable magazine, said the
practice alarmed him.
"I think it does raise some ethical
questions for CBS," he said. "You
would think that a TV news organization would not tamper with video,
especially live video. Viewers should
be able to rely on the fact that what
they are seeing is actually there."
Network news has flirted with similar technological issues once before.
In 1994, the use of a fake backdrop
caused an outcry in 1994 when the
ABC journalist Cokie Roberts appeared in front of a picture of Capitol
Hill. Peter Jennings, the ABC News
anchor, introduced a report from Ms.
Roberts, and said that she was reporting from Capitol Hill; Ms. Roberts, wearing a coat, appeared in
front of what looked like the Capitol.
But without the knowledge of network viewers or even Mr. Jennings,
Ms. Roberts was actually inside the
ABC News Washington bureau with
a photographic image of the Capitol
projected behind her. Ms. Roberts
and Rick Kaplan, then the executive
producer of "World News Tonight"
and now the president of CNN, were
both reprimanded and the network
apologized on the air.
Spokesmen for NBC, ABC and Fox
said their news units did not use such
digital technology on news broadcasts. Christa Robinson, a spokeswoman for CNN, said she knew of no
instance of the technology's use.