Scoring Points With New Sets

With a bit of parent company cash to spend, KVEA Los Angeles went large on its new newsroom set: 50+ new monitors, including a massive 82-inch touchscreen, and a refurbished weather center for the three-person meteorological department that blew the previous lonely green screen away. The Telemundo station spent big, but also spent wisely to match the demands of increasingly tech-savvy viewers.

“We need to be able to tell stories the way viewers want them to be told,” says Celia Chavez, president/GM of the NBCUniversal Owned Television Stations’ outlet.

Whether the capital comes from the parent company’s cable revenue or from the approximately $2.5 billion in political spending that went to stations in 2014, local broadcasters are investing in sets that feature eye-popping interactive screens and modern LED lighting that are flexible, and that aim to give the stations the upper hand in local weather battles.

“Station spending continues to be incredibly strong,” says Dan Devlin, Devlin Design Group owner/chief creative strategist. “We are wrapping up our biggest year ever, and 2015 is already starting off strong.”

Topping the wish lists are virtual sets, which import simulated elements onto a screen to liven up a newscast. WBTV Charlotte and WUSA Washington joined the small group of stations showcasing such technology, says Mack McLaughlin, FX Group CEO. “It’s not quite a trend,” he says. “But we’re trying to help it be.”

A more realistic get is an LED lighting upgrade, which involves a larger upfront cost, but typically earns back its investment within 18-24 months, says McLaughlin, thanks to longer-lasting bulbs. LED was the cherry on top for KTAZ Arizona, which completed a “huge upgrade,” according to Araceli De Leon, president and general manager, including a news set large enough for four anchors, as opposed to the previous lone anchor setup, and a separate talk show set accommodating 6-8 people.

“The bulbs don’t generate heat,” says De Leon. “We live in the desert—it makes a huge difference.”

Station leaders see the dramatic video walls on ESPN, Fox News and other cable channels and are curious how such a setup, albeit a scaled down one, would work in their own operation. Don Pratt, WCBD Charleston VP and general manager, raves about a 90-inch monitor on one side of the NBC affiliate’s new set, and a 9-panel presentation on the other side. “[New sets] won’t necessarily make or break your reputation,” he says, “but you’re looking to make content pleasing for viewers.”

KTAZ’s weather center got an 80-inch monitor, which will be especially helpful when monsoon season starts in the southwest. It’s one of several stations looking to beef up its weather presentation with flashy technology. Devlin mentions “larger-than-life” weather presentations launched out of “multipurpose storytelling environments” that work for breaking news, sports or weather. Also getting raves from the meteorologically inclined is Accuweather’s Storyteller interactive touchscreen, which feels right at home for iPhone-wielding viewers.

The real proof is in the ratings, and Chavez shares that KVEA tied rival KMEX for tops in Los Angeles late news in 18-49 in September. “Everybody is energized by the new technology,” she says. “It’s made a big impact and we’re able to see the results.”

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.