02.04.2004 12:00 PM
Multicasting, datacasting give local broadcaster expanded news coverage

Television viewers in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., have had access to local news stories that otherwise might have never made it to air since WRAL-TV launched NewsChannel, a 24-hour local news operation on its SD multicast channel in August 2001.

WRAL launched NewsChannel on its SD multicast channel in August 2001. NewsChannel gives the station the chance to cover stories that otherwise would have gone unreported or under-covered. Photo courtesy WRAL-TV.

Besides re-broadcasting WRAL-TV’s evening 6 p.m. newscast at 7 p.m., the NewsChannel carries news specials, such as gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Michael Peterson murder trial, and network news programming like CBS MarketWatch. It also is “flanked” by graphics and content from WRAL.com.

Repurposing material from the Web site and the news operation of WRAL-TV allowed management to put the WRAL NewsChannel on-the-air for a fraction of the price of starting a station from scratch. “With very little personnel cost and equipment cost, we have started a new channel,” said WRAL programming and special projects manager Jimmy Goodmon, Jr.

“We need to be clear that it is a balancing act,” he explained. “We don’t want to take anything away from the capacity of WRAL news. We want to use it to add to the NewsChannel when we have extra capacity. We run a tight ship on the NewsChannel.”

The station hired a producer and assigns its digital media manager to integrate material to the station’s Web site onto the NewsChannel. Otherwise, it draws on existing resources from what Goodmon called “the big news operation” to shoot, gather, produce and air news.

Complementing the “big news operation” extends beyond newsgathering to encompass news coverage. “Earlier this year, we had a car chase,” said Goodmon. “We broke into coverage on WRAL news but couldn’t stay with it the whole time as it unfolded. But on WRAL NewsChannel, we could punch right in and stay with the chase. All that required was a producer/director and font co-coordinator, and we were live.”

The station also devotes 1 to 1.5 Mb/s of its channel allotment to datacasting, and news plays an important role there as well. Among WRAL’s datacast offerings, are a 380Kbps edition of the “big news operation’s” 6 p.m. news, live streamed news from the NewsChannel and an abridged version of WRAL.com.

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