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For Hi-Def News, It’s Payoff Time

Better than 60% of all U.S. homes now have a high-definition TV set, with more families likely to take the plunge during the upcoming holiday shopping season. Yet many stations are not offering local newscasts in HD. Only 25% to 35% of stations overall have made the switch, and the percentage is even lower in small and mid-sized markets, vendors note.

That record may improve over the next year, however, thanks to increased ad revenue and growing availability of hi-def technologies that can reduce the cost of HD upgrades and make the hefty investments a more viable financial proposition.

For example, when ABC affiliate KTBS in Shreveport, La., began planning to upgrade to high-definition four years ago, executives knew it would ultimately be important to provide viewers the highest-quality newscast. However, by the time KTBS finally launched its HD newscast on Oct. 14, the station had weathered a severe recession, forcing management to rethink what they hoped to accomplish with the upgrade.

“We knew when we started there would be efficiencies, but after what happened in 2009 [with the recession and accompanying layoffs at the station] we realized that changing the way we worked was no longer an option—it was a mandate,” says George Sirven, general manager of KTBS and CW affiliate KPXJ. “We realized we needed to not only change the technology, we had to change our outlook on local news.”

So as part of the HD upgrade, KTBS moved to a file-based workflow in August, using Avid editing and content-storage systems. The station also deployed Grass Valley’s Ignite automation system and revamped the way it collects local news, equipping so-called multimedia journalists (MMJ) with Sony solidstate camcorders.

The MMJs, who shoot and edit their own stories, have enabled KTBS to expand the amount of content it is producing. KTBS and KPXJ now air about seven and half hours of news during the week, while also putting more emphasis on online and mobile delivery. MMJ technology “has allowed us to create more local product with the same number of people,” Sirven says.

Similar strategies are increasingly prevalent, as more stations look to high-definition upgrades as an opportunity to revamp their newsroom operations.

“The whole model for the newsroom is changing, and broadcasters are looking for solutions that allow them to be more efficient,” notes Jim Frantzreb, senior broadcast segment manager for Avid, which recently introduced the AirSpeed MultiStream (1.6) ingest and playout server, designed to give stations a lower-cost path to HD upgrades.

In fact, lower-cost solutions have been appearing for virtually every part of the HD upgrade process, from cameras to non-linear editing systems, servers, master control, automation and switchers. “The cost of technology is coming down considerably for highdefinition,” notes Mark Siegel, president of Advanced Broadcast Solutions. Siegel adds that stations are also increasingly using the upgrade to HD as an opportunity to move to a file-based workflow and automate operations.

“If you can change the staffing equation, that can have a huge impact on the bottom line, or it can allow you to divert resources to more production or new media,” notes Ed Casaccia, director of product management and marketing for servers and digital production at Grass Valley.

Technology advancement is serving to shift the financial equation for HD upgrades, adds Andrew Warman, senior product marketing manager, Harris Broadcast Communications. Warman points to Gray Television as an example of how station groups are approaching HD upgrades with an eye toward achieving long-term operational savings.

During the HD upgrade for its NBC affiliate WOWT in Omaha, Neb., Gray installed a Ross Video switcher and Overdrive automation system along with Harris’ NEXIO servers and ADC automation systems. The configuration means that one person at the station can now handle both “production and master control,” notes Jeff Moore, executive vice president, sales and marketing at Ross Video.

“One of our mantras for the last several years has been that high-definition can pay for itself because as part of this very big upgrade, you have the opportunity to get some operational savings with automation,” Moore says. The process, he adds, can reduce stations’ ongoing costs, and “perhaps more importantly, focus those resources on newsgathering so they can generate more content for news broadcasts or for new media content.”