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Stations Practicing the Politics of Sharing

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In technology as in politics, promises of new solutions frequently grab the headlines. But in this year’s election cycle, some of the biggest developments at local stations involve efforts to get the most out of their existing investments in technologies to help them produce more content for more devices and, in many cases, share content within groups.

Some stations are, for example, expanding their multiplatform efforts to provide live streams for mobile devices. “We will be offering live streams to mobile devices, which is not something everyone can do,†says Chip Mahaney, director of digital content at the E.W. Scripps Co., which was the first group to roll out live mobile steaming capabilities to its stations last year. “Live streaming to mobile is a unique play for us.â€

Other groups are also working aggressively to ramp up their offerings. Brian Bracco, Hearst Television VP of news, says Hearst has responded to a jump in mobile usage by increasing the number of stations that will be offering live streaming to mobile and by launching an election iPad app that includes live streaming.

“We expect 10 or 11 stations to be streaming to mobile on Election Night,†Bracco notes. “As mobile traffic increases, it’s a very important effort for us.â€

Mobile streaming will also allow some stations to offer a separate stream with local election results to mobile devices while viewers are watching the national coverage on TV, Bracco adds.

Scripps’ WXYZ ABC affiliate in Detroit has already seen notable success in offering a separate streaming election coverage feed—first to the Web in 2006 and then adding mobile streams in 2010. “We started small, in a Wayne’s World kind of way,†says Seth Myers, director of digital at the station. “But we’ve really built it up into a place that viewers have come to expect, and the place to be on Election Night for all the big political names.â€

The Election Day stream doesn’t have a set schedule, but it typically starts early Tuesday morning and runs into the evening, reports Chuck Stokes, WXYZ director of editorial and public affairs.

As part of the effort, the station has upgraded its systems so that “we can take any feed of video that is coming into the building and put it on our webcast,†Myers notes, which allows WXYZ to add feeds from reporters in the field.

While the Election Night streaming coverage at WXYZ is specifically produced for online and mobile, with its own desk and anchor, the technology also allows Scripps stations to regularly stream other events, such as visits by presidential candidates, explains Lana Durban Scott, director of news strategy and operations for the group.

Another major push for Scripps and other station groups will be increased sharing of content. This will be particularly true among groups that have multiple stations in one state or have regional clusters.

Blake Russell, senior VP, station operations at Nexstar Broadcasting Group, notes that Nexstar made a number of upgrades over the last 18 months to help its stations better share content, which has become a major focus in their election coverage.

During the conventions this summer, Nexstar sent four multimedia journalists (MMJ) to each convention, with each MMJ assigned to produce material for seven markets. The group spent several months coordinating the efforts, with each station providing the MMJs with contact info for local delegates.

The MMJs were equipped with small Panasonic P2 cameras, laptops for editing and microphone flags showing the call letters for the stations they represented.

During the conventions, the MMJs filed more than 150 tease stories looking ahead at the day’s events and another 280 evening news stories that were customized with interviews conducted with local delegates that showed the mic flags with each station’s call letters. Stories were sent back to the stations over the Latakoo file-sharing system.

“It allowed us to provide unique local coverage that only cost each market just over $200,†Russell says.

That kind of planning and cooperation, Russell adds, will be central to the rest of Nexstar’s election coverage, in which stations are sharing graphics for their common “Your Local Election Headquarters†branding.

In the last 18 months, Raycom has also been making a number of upgrades to help stations swap graphics and news stories, using technology from Chyron and Bitcentral. “It has allowed us to do quite a bit of collaborating,†notes Don Shaw, director of operations and engineering at WBTV, the CBS affiliate in Charlotte, N.C.

Shaw adds that WBTV has been sharing best practices from its Democratic National Convention coverage. “It was really a test bed for everything wireless and everything social,†he says.

Raycom is also testing a system that would allow stations to access live video from other stations over its wide area network (WAN). “We already share stories pretty aggressively, and this will give us a way to go live with a big story on other stations during elections or severe weather,†notes Susana Schuler, VP of news for the station group.

Durban Scott at Scripps notes her group will be sharing content from stations in key battleground states like Ohio and Florida. But she also stresses that better communication has been the key to coordinating the company’s two TV stations and two newspapers in Florida, which have jointly launched a election coverage site.

“It is really not so much about technology as about understanding each other and tapping into each other’s strengths,†Durban Scott says.

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