WINK Seeing Payoff from Quick Transition to HD

Three months since introducing local programming in HD, WINK-TV in Fort Myers, Fla., is seeing a clear payoff.

“After years of being fairly dormant, our demographics are the best they've been since the early 1990s,” said John Emmert, director of technology and special projects. “We didn't change anchors, we didn't change formats. The only thing that really changed in the market is we went to HD.”

The affluent audience buying HD sets makes a point of seeking out HD programming, and that includes the station’s newscasts.

WINK, a family-owned CBS affiliate, introduced HD programming at the end of October, partly as a way of boosting its competitive position versus Waterman Broadcasting's NBC affiliate, WBBH.

WINK's staff also produces newscasts for The CW affiliate WXCW, which operates out of the same facility under an agreement with Sun Broadcasting.

Once WINK decided to make the move to HD, after “three very full days” of meetings with vendors at last April's National Association of Broadcasters’ conference, WINK moved fast, completing the job within five months of issuing the first purchase orders in May, Emmert said. That's remarkable because most stations making the jump have corporate teams that go from station to station making the conversions, and still often take nine months or more, he added.

“So far, we haven't found anybody else done a conversion as fast as we did,” engineering director Keith Stuhlmann said. WINK got help from a systems integrator, Professional Communications Systems of Tampa, Fla. But Stuhlmann said station management also did a few important things right.

For one, they had been thinking ahead to this moment for years. So when they redesigned their newsroom set a few years ago, they had it built to look good on either a traditional or a wide-screen TV. “It paid off on that day when we went live with this because we were all set,” he said. “We could all just sit back and say, ‘Hey, doesn't that look great?’”

The months leading up to the transition were a little chaotic, however. WINK had still been using analog video-switching equipment, so it had to make a more complete technology transition than some other stations that had already gone digital. And particularly during the last weeks of preparation, the station was cluttered with equipment, stacked half-assembled on folding tables in the hallways, because the older analog equipment had to be in place while the new stuff was assembled and tested. “We looked like a used electronics shop,” Emmert said.

During that period, “we had to run parallel SD [standard-definition] and HD, so it was hard finding room even on the floor just to put these things,” Stuhlmann said. In addition to new cameras and editing equipment, the station brought in a whole new suite of computers from Weather Services International for HD weather graphics.

The date for the transition, Oct. 20, was picked specifically because the evening-news broadcast would come right on the tail of a University of Florida versus University of Kentucky college-football game that was also being broadcast in HD, and “we knew we would have high viewership for the game,” Stuhlmann said. That day's 11 a.m. news broadcast was the last all-analog broadcast and, once it was done, technicians scrambled to move new equipment into place.

Since that first day, there have been a few glitches here and there. For example, most news broadcasts from the field are still recorded on SD equipment and upconverted for HD transmission, and many external news feeds still arrive as analog content. Because the picture isn't wide-screen, engineers are supposed to fill the region to the left and right with a motion graphic so HD viewers just don't see black there, and sometimes the engineers forget.

Also, since viewers with older equipment don't see the wide-screen picture, HD-camera operators have to be trained to frame their shots so that the image looks best in HD but still works in SD. With a little experience, most of those problems have gone away.

“Right now, we're doing well. We're in our groove now,” Stuhlmann said. “The hardest part really for me was trying to anticipate every pitfall and plan for it. You've got to pay attention to all the details, otherwise you'll find yourself with lots of problems.”

WINK's Key Technology Choices:

• HD Studio Cameras: Four Ikegami HDK-790EXIII with a Canon Digi Super 25 XS Lens

• HD Production Switcher: Snell & Wilcox 4 M/E HD Kahuna System

• HD Monitor Wall: Miranda Kaleido KX

• HD Monitors: Various models from Panasonic, Ikegami, Marshall

• HD Wave Form Monitoring: Two Tektronix WFM7000

• HD Captioning: Evertz HD9084 HD Caption Encoder

• HD Weather Graphics: WSI HD Weather Graphics System

• Graphics Systems: VIZRT HD Graphics System, ScreenWriter HD Graphics System, Beat The Traffic HD Graphics System

• HD Clip Store/Still Store: Avid HD Thunder

• HD Non Linear Editing: Apple Final Cut Pro