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Japan Quake Shakes TV-Equipment Suppliers

3/21/2011 12:01 AM Eastern

The tragic 8.9-magnitude earthquake
and subsequent tsunami and nuclear crisis in Japan
are beginning to have an impact on professional products
for the TV and production industries.

Some distributors are telling clients they may face
shortages in tapes widely used in TV production, while
analysts are predicting shortages in electronic components
and price hikes in equipment in upcoming
months.

One immediate issue was the damage to a Sony
plant in the earthquake zone, in the Sendai region, that
was a major producer of tapes and professional products,
as well as the shutdown of another Sony plant because
of power outages.

As a result, at least two distributors — Comtel Pro
Media in Burbank, Calif.,
and Tape Resources
in Virginia Beach,
Va. — were predicting
shortages of Sony HDCam
SR and other recording
media widely
used in TV production.

Some outlets were
also restricting sales
of HDCam SR tapes,
which are often used
as the master recording
media for primetime
TV production because of their high quality.

“Our industry has already been affected by a halt
in media manufacturing operations — professional
media supply shortages are evident, namely HDCam
SR,” explained a post on the Comtel Pro Media website.
“Worldwide stock shortages present a realistic threat to
our industry and the immediate needs of … television
and motion-picture production.”

TV producers use a wide array of camera systems,
many of which have different proprietary formats for
recording video, so there are alternatives to the formats
and recording media used by Sony cameras.
Many of the lighter, less-expensive HD cameras, including
those made by Sony, use solid-state media and
inexpensive flash memory cards that remain widely
available.

But the shortage in HDCam SR gear is particularly
important for big-budget theatrical films and primetime
TV dramas and sitcoms, where high-end Sony
cameras play an important role in many productions
and where the format had been widely adopted by producers,
noted David Cohen, CEO and owner of Edgewise
Media/Comtel Pro Media.

The tapes are of such high quality that in recent
years, a number of productions have moved from film
to HDCam SR.

A shortage of the HDCam SR tapes “is a crisis,” Cohen
explained in an interview. “A lot of people haven’t
grasped its importance yet, but this will have a worldwide
impact that people are going to have to think
about and manage.”

Amid the devastation, Cohen and others stressed
that problems with TV equipment supplies “were
nothing compared to the loss of lives and devastation
in Japan.”

Here, some good news has emerged. Most major
manufacturers with Japanese operations contacted
by Multichannel News — including Sony, Panasonic
and Grass Valley — reported they had not suffered
any deaths or serious injuries among their employees
as a result of the crisis.

They also stressed that a number of plants had suffered
little damage and that some had already resumed
production.

While consumer-electronics manufacturers in Japan
had moved a great deal of production off shore to China
and other lower-cost regions in the last 15 years, Japan
remains a major producer of semiconductors, and
a number of major vendors of professional products for
the TV industry maintain factories in the country.

These include Sony, Panasonic, Grass Valley,
FOR-A, Hitachi, Canon, Fujifilm (which owns lens producer
Fujinon) and
others, all of which
are important suppliers
of cameras, lenses,
switchers and professional
media, such as
tapes or solid state devices,
used to record
video.

As a result of the crisis,
prices for memory
chips have jumped,
with Reuters reporting a
20% jump in spot prices
of NAND flash chips last Monday (March 14) and another
3% rise last Tuesday (March 15).

Market-research firm IHS iSuppli estimates that Japan
produces about 60% of the silicon used in semiconductors
and that production shortfalls could have
a major impact on global output, producing a “significant
shortage of certain electronic equipment, potentially
causing pricing for those device to increase
dramatically. ... However, the global supply chain has
about two weeks of excess component inventory in
the pipeline for semiconductor parts affected by the
quake. Because of this, the shortages are not likely to
appear until the end of March or the start of April. Just
the same, these shortages and their price impact are
likely to linger until the third quarter.”

The rapidly rising Japanese yen, which hit levels last
week against the U.S. dollar not seen since the mid-
1990s, will make products produced in Japan more
expensive unless the yen weakens. Power shortages
forcing factory slowdowns and the difficulty of transporting
materials over quake- and tsunami-damaged
roads could also result in production shortfalls, price
hikes and possible shortages.

Even worse problems could emerge if the nuclear
crisis is not contained and radiation releases further
disrupt the economy, forcing companies to shut down
factories and evacuate employees from areas not already
impacted by the quake and tsunami.

Sony is still assessing the impact of the damages on
its factories, two Sony spokespersons said. The company
has reported “no significant injuries” to its staff in
Japan, the company noted in a press release.



George Winslow is technology editor of
Broadcasting &
Cable. Melissa Grego of B&C contributed to this story.
September