When San Diego Convention Center Corp. officials were invited to Paris in June to be inducted into the elite International Congres de Palais, a worldwide convention center association, they wanted to put their best foot forward.
So the officials put together a video presentation that included clips from television news footage that was retrieved for them by Broadcast Monitoring Services, a San Diego-based video clipping service. The show was designed to show their hosts how the San Diego meeting hall was emerging as an imposing municipal fixture.
"It wasn't a sales piece, but we did want to show our best side," said Donna Alm, communications director at the San Diego Convention Center Corp. "We've used BMS to put together promotional pieces, for a program for our board of directors, and, as part of our annual report . . . . As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words."
As corporate America keeps an increasingly watchful eye on the tube, broadcast monitoring firms such as BMS are finding a growing market for their services, which typically are confined to the taping of news and public affairs programs.
Video clip service customers span a broad spectrum, from insurance companies reviewing TV news coverage of accidents, public relations firms that want to know when their clients were last on the air to attorneys gathering evidence for cases and businesses monitoring the competition's advertising campaigns.
"We are the video equivalent to a newspaper clipping service," said Jackie Carr, president of Broadcast Monitoring Services. "We record and monitor news and public affairs programs for our clients." Founded in 1984, the company's regular clients now number 150.
Although broadcast monitoring services have been in existence since the late 1960s, industry observers say use of TV news monitoring firms has increased noticeably in the last three to four years. The prevalence of VCRs, the proliferation of television news programs and the emergence of all news cable networks such as CNN have contributed to the increase.
In addition, businesses are spending more money on television advertising and public relations, and, as a result, want to see their video products when they air, Carr said.
When the International Assn. of Broadcast Monitors was founded in October 1981, the Austin, Tex.-based trade group had only eight members, said association president Monica Davis. Now, members have grown to nearly 50 in the U.S., Canada, Australia, London, Switzerland and Sweden.
In San Diego, besides BMS, Video Monitoring and Audio Video Reporting Services provide similar news video clipping.
Carr's firm records all the news programs aired on San Diego's three network affiliates, Channels 8, 10 and 39. In addition to local news, BMS also tapes major news or public affairs programs such as, "60 Minutes," "Close-Up," "48 Hours," and "Third Thursday." The firm also monitors local radio stations KFMB, KSDO and XTRA, which have heavy news coverage.
At first, Carr says, her company was contacted by public relations firms that simply wanted to know when their clients were in the news. Now, Carr says, businesses have expanded their uses of broadcast monitoring services.
"For example, a company will contract us to find out what kind of commercials the competition is showing, when the commercials are airing," Carr said. "We've had cases where personal-injury lawyers want footage of a particular accident. The lawyers can use us a fact-gathering service and sometimes use our tapes as evidence in court."
And, through the broadcast monitoring association's network, member firms can obtain for their clients news footage that has aired in another part of the country, Davis said.
"Often corporations want to know how they or how one of its products is being perceived in all their markets," Davis said. "We'll collect all of this for them and give it to them in one neat package.
Using a character machine, BMS imprints information on tapes, including the subject, date and time of the video aired, and which network it was shown on.
According to the trade association, monitoring firms generally charge $30 to $100 per clip, regardless of its length. Carr's firm charges $55 for the first tape and $45 for each additional clip.
Businesses desiring a copy of news footage should contact a broadcast monitoring firm as soon after the airing date as possible, Davis said. Lack of temperature-controlled storage space prevent most firms from keeping their videotapes much longer than one to three months. Although BMS advertises that it only keeps tapes for 90 days, Carr says the company's supply goes back one year. The company plans to create a video archive soon.
"If we weren't around, companies would have to make individual appointments with each television station and have a station engineer dig up a 40-second clip," Davis said. "In one fell swoop, we can give the clients what they need."
Sometimes, however, broadcast monitoring firms run into problems with stations. Some stations offer video clips to their viewers for a price and view them as an additional revenue source. Such stations view monitoring firms as unwanted competition.
Carr said she has a good working relationship with San Diego's stations. "They don't want to be bothered with this type of service," Carr said. "They're worried about the next day's news."
A more complex problem, however, may soon confront broadcast monitoring firms: copyright infringement. Some stations say monitoring firms are violating copyright laws when they tape their news broadcasts.
According to Carr, the International Assn. of Broadcast Monitors is lobbying for legislation that would legalize the taping and distribution of broadcasts.
"It's really a gray area right now," Carr said. "We're not doing anything illegal. This isn't an industry-wide problem, but it does affect some markets.
To help avoid such conflicts in San Diego, Carr said, her firm puts a copyright disclosure on every tape it produces. The disclosure prohibits the rebroadcast of any portion of the footage, prohibits making copies and only allows the tape to be used for research and internal purposes.
Carr decided to enter the monitoring business five years ago after her video production firm received many calls requesting tapes of certain programs.
"We were a general production company that did a variety of things, (such as) make commercials, video duplicating," Carr said. "Because of all the video equipment that we had, PR firms would call us and ask us if we could tape something for them. That's when we realized that a lot of people needed this type of service."