Alec Shapiro may not be a well-known name in stations and facilities across the country, but odds are, if your facility has purchased any videotape during the past 20 years, he has had an impact on your purchasing decision.
Currently vice president of marketing communications for Sony Electronics' Broadcast and Professional Co., Shapiro has been involved in the launch and marketing of arguably the most important videotape formats of the past two decades: Sony's Betacam, Panasonic's DVCPRO and now Sony's DVCAM.
"It's kind of strange that I helped launch Betacam and then helped launch DVCPRO, the format that would basically cut into Betacam's market share in news gathering," he says. "And now DVCAM is emerging as a viable, complete system for newsgathering."
Shapiro first got interested in the TV and film business while at the University of Maryland. He worked at the college TV station and became familiar with 2-inch quad equipment and RCA studio cameras that needed two people to move them. But the New York native found it hard to resist the pull of the big city, a pull that would get him involved in the industry in a way different from what he had probably envisioned.
"Basically, the New York area is a difficult place to break into television," he says. "But I was a good writer, so my first jobs were essentially copy-writing positions, and that led me into public relations."
In 1980, Shapiro began doing PR for a company trying to make a name in broadcasting: Sony. It had a strong consumer reputation but was up against two major forces: RCA and Ampex. "Sony was trying to establish an image in the broadcast industry," he recalls. "It started with 3/4-inch Umatic tape, which was designed for industrial applications but was quickly adopted for newsgathering."
Shapiro's original stint working with Sony came to an end in 1992, when he became vice president of marketing and business development at Panasonic Broadcast, where he would play a role in the launch of the DVCPRO format.
"At the time, Panasonic was not very well established in broadcast," he recalls. "They were marketing the MII format, and I worked closely with the factories and product designers on DVCPRO. We saw the need for a smaller, more affordable newsgathering format, and we saw DVCPRO as the answer."
With Panasonic's DVCPRO format gaining ground in the late '90s, the company was headed in the right direction. But, in 1998, the company decided to move its operations to Los Angeles, and Shapiro opted to stay on the East Coast. Enter then-Chyron President Ed Grebow.
"Alec is the strongest advertising and marketing executive in our industry," says Grebow. "I was determined to get him for Chyron, although everyone said it would be impossible to get him to leave Panasonic to go to little Chyron."
Shapiro, however, lives on Long Island, which is also home to Chyron. Every day, his commute to Panasonic would take him from Long Island to New Jersey, not the easiest of drives.
"Every morning, I would look at the traffic heading west on the Long Island Expressway," Grebow recalls. "If it was really bad, I would call him on his carphone and ask him how he could stand the commute to Jersey. And that's how I finally talked him into doing it."
Shapiro says Chyron provided a different challenge from Panasonic. "It gave me the opportunity to hustle and head up a sales organization, as well as marketing."
Grebow later jumped to Sony and once again tapped Shapiro to join him.
"All of a sudden, I had to convince him that traveling from Long Island to New Jersey wasn't all that bad," Grebow laughs.