8 Steps To Preparing Your Video For Broadcast Television / by Lowell Niles

We’ve shot your video, edited the content to match the script and storyboards, and added all your text, sounds, effects, and graphics. It looks and sounds great on the computer, but before we send it to the TV Broadcast station, we have a bit of work to do in order to make sure your video is ready to be seen by the world.  These steps might be different depending on the software you use, but are all very similar no matter what program you're using. Knowing these will point you in the right direction and you can do your own research to find out how each one is done (or better yet, ask me!).

1. Get The Specs!

First, we need to contact the station that is broadcasting our video and ask for their broadcast specs. These are often also called broadcast standards, technical guidelines, broadcast requirements, or technical specifications.  We should get these in-hand as early as possible— ideally, as part of pre-production!  Each station has different requirements for broadcasting our video and we don’t want to find out late in the project that we’ve shot in the wrong aspect ratio or won’t be able to display the video as you had envisioned.  Contact the station, get a copy of the specs, and review them with the team.

Get the technical or broadcast specifications from the station as early as possible. 

Get the technical or broadcast specifications from the station as early as possible. 

2. Set The Aspect Ratio

Make sure your video is shot (or at least edited) to the correct aspect ratio.  Some stations are still airing on 4:3, and some are airing on the newer 16:9 aspect ratios.  Depending on which you are using, you will also need to match this with the action and text safe zones.

3. Use Safe Zones

Some televisions can cut off the edges of the video.  For this reason, there is a “safe zone” that is used to determine where all the vital action should occur within the video to make sure it is seen in entirety on every possible television.  There is also a safe zone for text, to make sure it is always readable.  If vital action or text occur outsize the safe zones, you are in the danger zone and must fix it.

Keep the vital action inside the action-safe zone, and keep the text inside the text-safe zone!

Keep the vital action inside the action-safe zone, and keep the text inside the text-safe zone!

4. Timing Is Everything (and everything is just the beginning)

If you’ve purchased a 30-second TV slot, make sure your video has enough margin at the beginning and end so as to avoid jarring transitions from other commercials or shows.  If possible, fade in from black and fade out to black, adding 5 frames or so to the beginning and end of your sequence.

5. Set The Tone

Tonality, that is.  Also commonly referred to as the brightness and contrast of your video, the luminance, or the video “levels”.  Your blacks (shadows) should be completely black (or 0 IRE) and your whites (highlights) should be completely white (100 IRE).  What happens in between (the mid tones) is a matter of preference.  Setting the tonality is usually the first step in the color correction process.  By using waveform monitors and vector scopes, and applying color correction techniques, we are able to make sure that your production has a consistent tonality throughout.  DON’T TRUST YOUR EYES, as everyone sees things differently.  Waveform monitoring and vector scope viewing are a much more precise, consistent, and accurate way to analyze the tonality to make sure you make the required corrections.  This also assures us that your video is viewable (and beautiful) across a wide range of viewing devices.  After all, televisions come in all shapes and sizes.

Use the waveform monitor to assess the tonality of your video.  Make edits accordingly.

Use the waveform monitor to assess the tonality of your video.  Make edits accordingly.

6. Show Your True Colors

By colors I mean chrominance, also referred to as the hue or color balance of your video.  As with the tonality, there are special tools you can use to view and edit the chrominance.  You should not rely on your eyes alone for this.  To maintain a consistent hue throughout your video, you should use vector scopes to help determine where color correction is needed.

Don't trust your eyes.  Use a vector scope!

Don't trust your eyes.  Use a vector scope!

The RGB Parade reference, when used with the vector scope, is a great way to analyze your hue.

The RGB Parade reference, when used with the vector scope, is a great way to analyze your hue.

7. Know Your Compression Code

You will sometimes be asked to use a specific codec in order to achieve the compression-coded format preferred by your broadcast station.  Some stations prefer the h.264 compression algorithm (aka mpeg-4), Apple ProRes 422, or any of the many code formats that exist.  Sometimes, the station wants no compression at all.  You will need to review the broadcast specs and make sure to use the right one.

8. Audio Levels

Improper audio level is probably one of the most common reasons videos get rejected from TV broadcast stations.  Many people shoot strictly digital audio these days, viewing and editing their video on computers.  Digital audio plays nicely on computers, but when transferred to a television station a conversion to an analog signal takes place before broadcast.  Make sure to review the broadcast specs to determine what the peak and median audio levels are before exporting your video.  You may need to review the audio and make changes.  Some stations require an audio peak of -12dB, while others require -20dB. 

You can monitor audio levels right alongside your video.  Make sure to stay within the specified levels!

You can monitor audio levels right alongside your video.  Make sure to stay within the specified levels!

That's A Wrap!

A lot of work goes into video production and broadcast, and the 8 steps listed below are mandatory to display your video correctly over broadcast television.  There may be other requirements, but having these steps completed will allow many stations to work with your video.  Let me know if you have any questions or thoughts on this process.  Best of luck on your project!