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How a funeral inspired the pandemic’s hottest hardware



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If anyone was ill-prepared for worship in the time of coronavirus, it was the church I attend in New York’s Hudson Valley. While modern evangelical churches have broadcast systems that would put most local PBS stations to shame, our 250-year-old country parish only recently had air-conditioning installed.

So when New York’s lockdown restrictions hit in mid-March, we were forced to improvise. Initially, I and another parishioner helped our priest record services ahead of time that would be uploaded on the church’s YouTube page for Sunday morning. We used our cameraman’s DSLR camera, my iPhone, and a podcasting microphone that was gathering dust and created a serviceable multi-camera rig.

This worked for several months but as it soon became apparent that restrictions on in-person worship would continue we had to find a more sustainable solution. The issues why were twofold: posting pre-recorded videos took away from the live community that church gives people, and secondly, I was spending up to five hours per week editing the videos together. 

Our initial assumption was that any sort of live-streaming equipment would be prohibitively expensive, until research led me to a product called the ATEM Mini by Blackmagic Design that was taking church technology YouTube by storm (yes, that’s a thing).

Based in Victoria, Australia, Blackmagic Design’s bread and butter is in broadcast and cinema hardware such as high-end, ultra-high resolution camera bodies and multi-input broadcast switchers that can cost north of $10,000. But in November 2019 the company introduced the ATEM Mini, a shrunken down version of its ATEM broadcast switchers. The price was a quite radical $295. 

The Blackmagic Design ATEM Mini retails for $295.
Blackmagic Design

The ATEM Mini accepts four HDMI inputs—whether they be cameras or from a source such as a video games console or PC—and allows the operator to switch between them with transitions, picture-in-picture, and advanced features like chromakey (green screen), and audio processing. Where it gets really nifty is that all the processing of the video signals is handled on the device, so that when plugged into a computer the device shows up as a USB webcam that’s ready to go in Zoom, YouTube or your video streaming platform of choice. 

“The idea came to our CEO at a funeral of all things,” says Bob Caniglia, Blackmagic Design’s director of sales operations for North America. “At the funeral, people were trying to play videos back and then switch to something else, and each time they were plugging and unplugging cables. He said there all there needs to be is a little box to switch between inputs. How hard is that?”

All three products in the ATEM Mini line accept four HDMI inputs.

Blackmagic’s development team soon realized there would be other applications for such a box, such as Twitch gamers, YouTubers, classrooms, business presentations, virtual conferences, and yes, churches. 

What they didn’t realize is just how in-demand that product would be just months after its launch. “If someone told me last September, that by now we’d sell as many as we have I’d have asked, ‘Who’s buying this?’ But you throw a pandemic in there and all of a sudden…”

Indeed, the ATEM Mini was sold out at specialist A/V retailers and on Amazon for months. Scalpers were reselling the units at nearly double MSRP as businesses, houses of worship, and politicians made the switch to online. (Joe Biden’s campaign uses Blackmagic Design equipment for his at-home broadcasts.)

The ATEM Mini Pro (center) in situ at our church’s live-stream station.
Daniel Bentley

Blackmagic Design has now caught up with the backlog of orders for the ATEM Mini, and even added two new products to the line: the ATEM Mini Pro for $595, which adds an ethernet jack and encoder for directly streaming to YouTube or Twitch, recording to a hard drive from the device’s USB-C port, as well as multi-view monitoring so the director can see what’s happening on each input; and the ATEM Mini Pro ISO for $895 which adds the ability to record each individual input to a separate video file.

I gratefully accepted the offer of a review unit of the ATEM Mini Pro, and the product lived up to the hype. It’s simple to set-up (if you know how to plug an Apple TV into a television, then you already know how to set up the ATEM), and the results are surprisingly professional for such an in-expensive box. Our church has since purchased one and intends to continue streaming services once able to fully re-open. Hallelujah.

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Warner Bros. Television Group Appoints Black Woman TV Executive As New Chairman



Days after Peter Roth announced that he was stepping down as chair of the Warner Bros. Television Group, the entertainment giant appointed veteran TV executive Channing Dungey to lead the studio as its new chairman.

The news comes as Dungey, who has worked as an industry leader for decades, recently stepped down from her role as VP of original content and head of drama at Netflix after less than two years. Prior to Netflix, she became the first Black woman executive to run one of the big four networks during her time at ABC. During her stint at ABC, Dungey was responsible for shows, including “The Good Doctor,” the revival of “American Idol” and the reboot of “Roseanne,” which was canceled in 2018 after star Roseanne Barr posted a racist tweet that Dungey called “repugnant,” reports ABC.

“The Warner Bros.Television Group is the recognized industry leader in content creation and a true destination for talent based on its ability to produce across all genres and for all outlets,” said Dungey in a press statement sent to BLACK ENTERPRISE.

“I’m thrilled to be joining the company at such a pivotal time in its history and look forward to working with my new colleagues at Warner Bros. and across the Studios and Networks Group to build on the incredible work of my predecessor, Peter Roth. This is such an electric time in our industry, and we have so much opportunity available to us between Warner Bros.’ core businesses and HBO Max, I cannot wait to dive in.”

In her new role, Dungey will oversee several divisions of the television conglomerate including HBO, HBO MAX, Cartoon Network, TBS, TNT, and numerous others. Her new role starts in early 2021.

“This is a homecoming of sorts for Channing, who was a production executive at Warner Bros. early in her career, and we’re excited to have her rejoin the studio,” said Ann Sarnoff, chair and CEO, WarnerMedia Studios and Networks Group, in a press statement.

“Channing is one of the most talented, visionary, creative and respected executives working in television today,” Sarnoff added. “She has impeccable taste, a breadth of experience covering all platforms and genres, incredible relationships across the creative community, and a keen sense of what’s next and how best to get it to audiences. She’s a great choice to lead the Television Group as it continues to grow its production operations for HBO Max, while also maintaining its standing as the industry’s leading independent supplier of programming to all outlets.”

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How Trump could repeat his 2016 upset in Pennsylvania



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You might yawn and click on for deeper election punditry if I told you that a prominent Republican consultant in Pennsylvania predicts that Trump will pull an upset victory that surpasses his miracle win there in 2016. But Charlie Gerow is so well tuned to the ebbs and flows of momentum in every corner of the Keystone State, from the soccer sidelines in the Philadelphia suburbs to the saloons of the fracking patch, that it’s well worth hearing why he believes Trump’s poor poll numbers way understate his chances.

“I’d say we’re where we were four years ago, maybe slightly better,” Gerow told me. “Of course, an incumbent should be very far ahead at this stage if they’re going to win. But Trump’s a special case. I believe there’s a significant under-vote that doesn’t show up in the polls. A lot of Trump supporters don’t want to be visible.”

Gerow adds that the polls aren’t catching the surging enthusiasm for Trump in the state’s western oil tier. “These counties that were traditionally rock-ribbed Democratic are registering Republicans, a sign of a Trump victory bigger than last time,” he says. “It’s hard to fathom the support for Trump in the western region until you see the yard signs and talk to the folks in the bars and after church.”

Gerow served on Ronald Reagan’s staff during all three of his presidential runs, and worked as a surrogate for George G.W. and George W. Bush on their campaigns for the White House. I first met Gerow by chance one evening at the New York steakhouse Smith & Wollensky, where he was dining with his former boss Ed Rollins, Reagan’s top political lieutenant during his first term. Rollins regaled us with stories about how Nancy Reagan would spend the day calling her wealthy socialite friends in New York and Washington to glean gossip they’d heard at galas and cocktail parties on schemers planting stories to undermine her husband or his favorite aides; then she’d pepper the political team with warnings of alleged plots and plotters. (Rollins is now a partner in Gerow’s firm, Quantum Communications, based in Harrisburg.)

Trump won Pennsylvania by just 44,300 votes, or 0.57% of the total, in 2016, notching the first Republican victory in the state in 28 years. Gerow notes that Hilary Clinton carried the five heavily populated counties that encompass Philadelphia and its suburbs––Philadelphia, Delaware, Montgomery, Chester and Bucks––by 70% to 30%, gaining a 660,000-vote margin out of the total of 6 million cast. Three other urban counties also went to the Clinton column: Allegheny, Lackawanna and Dauphin, respectively homes to Pittsburgh, Scranton and Harrisburg. Trump actually did worse than Mitt Romney in the Philly suburbs, losing Chester, a Republican win in 2012, by 10 points. His coup was taking 56 of 67 counties, sweeping the rural and rust belt corridors, by 58.3% to 41.7%, amassing 250,000 more votes outside the cities and major suburbs than Romney captured four years earlier.

As Gerow points out, the hurdle for Trump is once again garnering a gigantic margin in blue collar and rural communities to offset his big deficits in the metros. The polls are predicting he can’t do it. “I’d say he’s the same or a bit weaker than the last time in Philadelphia and the suburbs,” he says. “But he’s much stronger in the southwest.”

Trump is big in ‘The T’

Gerow predicts that Trump will win five counties in the region south of Pittsburgh––Washington, Greene, Fayette, Westmoreland and Cambria, home to Johnstown––by a wider margin than his 66% win in 2016. He thinks that he’ll also outrace 2016 in the northern farming and forestry tier, known as “The T.”

The southwestern counties form an industrial belt loaded with healthcare and defense manufacturers where Trump’s “America first” trade policies, Gerow says, resonate strongly. “Those were traditional, rock-ribbed Democratic strongholds until the last couple of elections, and Trump has gone much farther than past Republican candidates in turning them red,” says the operative. Trump also flipped Erie County in 2016, and Gerow thinks he’ll expand his 1.5% margin there this year.

Nothing exemplified the 2016 reversal of fortunes better than Trump’s showing in Luzerne County, whose largest town is Wilkes-Barre. The area’s economy was pummeled by the fall of anthracite coal mining, but has rebounded as a hub for distribution centers. In 2012, Romney lost Luzerne by five points. Four years, Trump won by 19%, scoring a 24 point reversal. Gerow believes Trump will win by more this time. He also reckons that Trump’s blue collar wave will capture Lackawanna County, which encompasses Scranton—the city where Joe Biden was born, and that Trump narrowly lost in 2016.

Gerow cites fracking as perhaps the biggest issue in Trump’s favor. “Biden and Harris have flip-flopped on fracking, and voters think that based on their past opposition, they’re fibbing when they say they won’t ban it,” he says. “Their position isn’t lost on a state where several hundred thousand jobs depend on safe development of natural gas.” The roustabouts, rig operators, and mud loggers of the fracking region, he observes, aren’t inclined to the Green New Deal. Gerow also believes that African-American voters in the cities will vote for Trump in much bigger numbers “than the national media would ever think.”

Most of all, Gerow thinks that voters respond more to symbolism than to policies, and Trump is projecting a far more powerful, energetic image than Biden. “The physical difference is a huge plus for a president,” he says. “I’ve worked for three presidents, and after their first term, they’ve all looked a hell of a lot worse. They all get weighed down by the gravity of the office.” He marvels that Trump lives on junk food, doesn’t exercise, and grows ever more overweight, and yet “He thrives on the combat. You may hate him, but he’s the only president who looks better than four years ago.”

Trump’s energy level also astounds this political veteran. “You can say what you want about Trump, but he’s got more stamina than most 20 year olds. After the bout with COVID, he was chomping at the bit to get out. Now he’s buzzing all over the place.” For Gerow, the image of a robust Trump raging at rowdy nightly rallies “connects with voters as no words can.”

Trump’s now trailing by 4.4% in the RealClear Politics average of Pennsylvania polls. But he’s gained 2.7 points from his 7.1% deficit from October 7 to 14. Gerow is predicting a super-close, “knife edge” race that Trump will win by a hair more than the last time. No mystery in politics is more compelling than how the pull of Pennsylvania’s cities and suburbs versus the push of the farming and industrial regions, so closely matched, will play out on November 3.

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