In a bid to improve the competitive position of its stations by allowing them to more efficiently produce and share content, the Nexstar Broadcasting Group has centralized the servers for its Avid iNews newsroom computer systems in four markets, with more to be added in 2012.
In some cases, Nexstar made the move to centralize iNews servers in its Dallas data center as part of larger upgrades; in others, the need to upgrade older iNews systems prompted the decision.
“When some of these systems reached the end of their life, we were in a situation where we could either buy two new servers in each station or make the investment to put them in a centralized location where we would have lower maintenance costs,” says Blake Russell, senior VP of station operations at Nexstar.
So far, the iNews servers centralized in Dallas have been linked to stations in four Nexstar markets: WMBD (a CBS affiliate) and WYZZ (Fox) in Peoria, Ill.; WFXV (Fox) and WUTR (ABC) in Utica, N.Y.; WDHN (ABC) in Dothan, Ala.; and WEHT (ABC) and WTVW (independent) in Evansville, Ind. In early March, a fifth market, KMID (ABC) in Midland, Texas, will also be tied into the Dallas data center.
Russell believes the move will both save costs and improve the stations’ overall competitive position by making it easier to share content.
“We are very bullish about controlling our own destiny with our own content,” particularly original content that can differentiate their stations from their competitors, Russell argues. “Anyone can subscribe to CNN Newsource, which is a great product, but if they have a cute kicker, then you can have everyone in the market running it. But if we did a very interesting story in Springfield, Missouri on a guy who was using his iPad as a cash register, that is something unique that no one else will have.
“There is no reason that if we have an interesting health story from one market, it can’t run in others,” he adds.
In recent years, Nexstar has worked to centralize some master control operations as part of a hub-and-spoke strategy. In April 2011, it completed a major upgrade of its Little Rock, Ark., hub that led to the launch of its first HD newscasts and expanded the number of stations handled out of the Little Rock master control facility to eight.
Little Rock also serves as one of five hubs the group has for traffic and business operations.
For 2012, Nexstar has budgeted to build out another iNews server cluster for an additional, as yet undetermined, group of stations. “Frankly, I need iNews computer replacements in probably 80% of the markets and I need to do server replacements in about 90% of our markets,” which would provide an opportunity to move to the more centralized model, Russell says.
But Russell also stresses that Nexstar is taking a cautious approach to the process.
“Everything has worked perfectly and we’re seeing a number of benefits” in terms of costs, improved workflows and a streamlined process for content sharing, he says. “But while I really believe in the product, we want to see how everything works. We want to crawl before we start walking and running.”
HD upgrades are also providing an opportunity for reexamining how Nexstar can better tie together the news operations of its stations, Russell says. Nexstar launched the first HD newscasts at its stations in 2011 and plans to launch them in eight stations in 2012.
Centralizing the iNews servers will also create more efficient workflows. “As the core workstations for iNews need to be replaced, we can move toward a more centralized content creation center and allow people to do more at their desktop than just write scripts,” he adds.
Tying the stations together has also greatly simplified graphics creation. “When you go to a centralized model like this with iNews, then you can just set things up once and it’s done,” he says. “It’s plug-and-play.”
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