As some stations close or cut back their news departments due to low ratings and limited capital, Sinclair Broadcast Group said it plans to help its stations that do not currently offer news programming by implementing a centralized system to distribute prepared news segments and other elements of a newscast from as far as 450 miles away.
To distribute programming and other elements among its TV stations, Sinclair will use Avid's Unity system in the Baltimore “hub” and Avid’s Unity LANshare technology at each station.
The company’s Baltimore, Md., headquarters will supply national and international news segments, graphic design elements and even local weather forecasts, while the individual stations will focus exclusively on local news coverage.
Sinclair itself was responsible for closing down the news department at KDNL-TV in St. Louis, Mo., citing economic reasons. They developed this new architecture to avoid similar closings.
“We always hate to shut down a news department,” said Del Parks, vice president of engineering and operations at Sinclair. “We want to increase our news presence, but we had to alter the economic equation because it’s become too expensive to produce news using the traditional models in place. We can’t spend $3 million to produce news when we’re only making $1 million in revenue.”
Parks said Sinclair might reinstate news in the St. Louis market at a later date, if the new model proves its value. Either way, the new centralized model would result in high-quality news delivered more efficiently within the other markets it serves.
“We’re hoping to help our stations produce a better news product by allowing them to focus on what they do best, local news,” he said. “This model ensures that each of our stations will have the national and international news they need, while giving them more time to produce local stories. It allows stations at the local level to be hyper-local.”
Parks said that the model they’re creating might not be appropriate for all stations. “When you start talking about centralized models, everyone thinks that one size fits all,” he said. “That’s not the case. The model we’re building has a great deal of flexibility built into it, allowing stations to decide what parts of the system work best for them.”
Sinclair will launch its first newscast using this pre-packaged news model at WSMH-TV Flint, Mich., where the station will premiere the market's first 10 o'clock news program on Oct. 28, 2002. WSMH-TV will get all of its national and international news, national sports, graphics and weather from Baltimore, located 450 miles away. Keeping costs low, the station’s studio features a Thomson Grass Valley camera on Telemetric's robotic pedestals.
Systems integrator, Azcar, was responsible for setting up the remote operations between Baltimore and Flint and will continue to provide engineering services for the remainder of the phased strategy that Sinclair is undertaking to include some of its other stations.
To distribute programming and other elements among the group, the system in place--in development at Sinclair for more than four years at a cost of approximately $5 million--uses Avid Technology’s Unity system in the Baltimore “hub” and Avid’s Unity LANshare technology at each station; representing a direct, secure connection between Sinclair headquarters and the respective markets.
At each station, Grass Valley cameras and production switchers and Pinnacle Systems Deko character generators have been deployed to handle the incoming digital files. Avid’s iNews newsroom computer system is also in place at several Sinclair stations, while Panasonic’s DVCPRO format cameras are used for ENG field acquisition.
Telestream’s ClipMail Pro system is used for sending stories to stations--using a store-and-forward method--that don’t need to be sent in real time. Local weather reports, being provided by AccuWeather, might be sent 15 minutes before it airs. Sinclair stations in Rochester, N.Y. and Birmingham, Ala. (where they don’t currently produce news) are fed weather reports this way.
Parks said it was important to keep all of the technology consistent among the various Sinclair stations so that shared elements would all look uniform on-air. In addition, system reliability is ensured using several backup distribution systems, including analog and digital satellite paths, fiber-optic cable to a teleport outside of Baltimore and the Internet.
“Local news is an integral part of establishing television stations in their local communities,” said David Smith, president and CEO of Sinclair. "However, the cost associated with producing a quality newscast can be prohibitive in many markets. We developed a model, using current technology that reduces or eliminates repetitive efforts and resources that can be produced from a centralized location.” Without the limitations of cost, Smith said his company’s local stations can focus on creating a cost-effective, tailored news department that can focus exclusively on the news that affects their specific community.
“With lower per station costs, even the smaller markets are able to support a profitable yet high quality newscast,” Smith said.
To oversee its new news model, Sinclair has promoted Joe DeFeo to Corporate News Director. In this new capacity DeFeo will be responsible for developing a system to manage the news resources of the company and develop ways to add more news in Sinclair markets. Prior to his new position, DeFeo served as news director of Sinclair's Baltimore television stations, WBFF and WNUV, a position he has held since November 1992.
Sinclair Broadcast Group owns and operates, programs, or provides sales services to 62 television stations in 39 markets, 29 of which currently air local news. Sinclair's television group includes FOX, WB, ABC, CBS, NBC, and UPN affiliates and reaches approximately 23.9 percent of all U.S. television households.
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