In a notable example of how station groups are using high-definition upgrades to both streamline operations and improve the quality of news they deliver to regional audiences, Nexstar Broadcasting Group is finishing up work on the expansion of its Little Rock, Ark. hub.
On April 20, the upgrade allowed KARK, Nexstar’s NBC Little Rock affiliate, to launch HD newscasts, making it the first of Nexstar’s owned-and-operated stations to make the switch.
But completion of work in mid-June on the facility will have a much bigger impact on Nexstar’s operations by increasing the number of stations operated from the Little Rock hub from five to eight, and boosting the amount of HD content all of them can handle. After the upgrade, which was designed and carried out by Nexstar’s in-house engineering and tech staff, all eight stations that are run through the new HD master control will be able to handle syndicated content and local ads in HD.
Major vendors for the upgrade include a Miranda master control, Ross Video switcher, JVC studio cameras, Omneon servers, DNF control systems, Avid automation and computer graphics products, Yamaha audio board and the latest weather system from WSI.
The three new stations that will be added to the Little Rock hub are NBC affiliate KTVE and Fox affiliate KARD in Monroe, La., and KTAL (NBC) from Shreveport, La. They join KARK (NBC) and KARZ (MyNetworkTV) from Little Rock, KBTV (Fox) from Beaumont, Tex. and KNWA (NBC) and KFTA (Fox) covering the northwest part of Arkansas.
“We are a firm believer in the hub-spoke model from a master control, business and trafficking perspective,” explains Blake Russell, senior vice president of station operations at Nexstar.
Russell stresses that the decision to expand the Little Rock hub as part of an HD upgrade had a number of advantages. With the new Little Rock facility capable of handling 12 stations, “we will have headroom for adding four others at some point,” potentially reducing additional operating costs in the future, Russell notes.
The new HD newscasts at KART will also strengthen Nexstar’s competitive position in Little Rock, a market where two competing stations had launched hidef newscasts in recent months. To make sure viewers would see a noticeable improvement in the quality of the HD newscasts, Russell notes that the station added a new weather system and a new set.
The new set provides KART with added flexibility in the way they present the news, and it includes a number of different anchor desks to vary the look and feel of the programs in a way that really “sets us apart in Little Rock,” Russell explains. “In this day and age, you have to give someone a different piece of eye candy all the time. You can’t show them the same thing over and over again.”
The upgrades also lay the basis for eventually taking the news operations at the other Nexstar stations to HD. “It makes much more sense to invest in a hub architecture when you are building up an HD platform, rather than having to do those upgrades in each of the stations,” Russell notes. “It is a much more costeffective transition path.”
In the meantime, the upgrades will improve the Nexstar stations by making it much easier to share footage, stories and correspondents. “By having connectivity between all of these stations, someone at Beaumont can immediately tap into talent in other areas if they need to get something on the air,” Russell says.
In fact, the upgrades are part of a bigger effort to transform the way Nexstar operates its businesses and work flow. “It’s not just about HD,” Russell argues. “It goes much deeper than that. It is really about challenging our people to think differently and practice new work flows” so they can outperform “the serious competition” they face.
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