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April 2014
Issue: September 1, 2003

WHEN IT FADED TO BLACK

By: By Randi Altman
Where were you when the lights went out? Hopefully, not anywhere on the Eastern seaboard. But for those of us located on the right coast, the failure of a power grid, a REALLY BIG power grid, sent us into darkness. Some of us made the best of it by finding an open bar and happily drinking warm beer by candlelight, others tried to walk over bridges in hopes of making it home before total darkness, others just accepted their fate and found a comfy piece of concrete to sleep on.

How did the Blackout of 2003 affect the entertainment industry? Nielson reports that it lost about 1/4 of its homes the first night of the blackout. Box office was understandably down. And what about the already-put-upon post house with temperature-sensitive equipment and tight deadlines? Well the few we spoke to also made the best of a bad situation and learned that they can operate under duress.

"I think we acted as a perfect commercial for UPS systems [uninterruptible power supplies]," reports Evan Schectman, principal of NYC-based Outpost Digital. "We lost no data, we lost no gear - all we lost was time. You could set your watch by our staff. Come Friday afternoon, most people returned to work unannounced to pick up where they left off, even though it was late in the day. On Saturday we had a full house… in NYC, a deadline is a deadline."

"I am probably one of the few people in the industry that remembers where they were when the lights went out in 1965," jokes Andy Sykes, owner of Toronto's Command Post & Transfer/Toybox. "We were fortunate that the impact on our facilities and our clients was negligible. While it created some scheduling difficulties, we were able to weather the storm with very little disruption."

Bill McCullough, owner of NYC's Wonderland Productions, says they went out and bought a case of beer and sat on the steps. But in regards to work they got lucky. "It really didn't affect us because we're in the middle of projects - we weren't up against any deadlines that week. We just gave our clients another day. In terms of equipment, I was sweating a little bit because all of our stuff is on the Transoft, so we had to come in and do the testing and make sure none of the media was lost. It's possible that we're not going to see any repercussions for a couple of weeks because sometimes these things hide in the drives. So we're not sure we totally came out unscathed, yet."

I think McCullough's last statement can apply to many of the post houses on the East Coast, but everyone is thinking positively and keeping in mind that it could have been much worse.