Jumping On The Bandwagon

Turn to pages 10 and 11 of the print version of the June issue of Television Broadcast and you’ll find our newest section, a map of the U.S. pinpointing markets where stations have begun broadcasting local news in HD.

By our count (and we may have missed a few), 49 stations in 30 markets have made the switch from SD to HD in their newsroom operations, with many of these also using HD gear for ENG.

As might be expected, these include stations in each of the top ten DMAs, but some smaller-market stations have also climbed aboard the HD news bandwagon. For example, two stations in Lexington, KY (DMA #63) and three stations in Reno, NV (DMA #110) are treating their viewers to high-res images with every newscast.

These numbers will grow fast. Right now there are only two Scripps stations on TVB’s map (WXYZ, Detroit and WEWS, Cleveland). But as Mike Doback, the group’s vice president of engineering, says in the story on page 6 about Scripps’ multimillion-dollar purchase of JVC HD equipment for ENG, all ten Scripps stations will have full-blown HD newscasts on or before Transition Day in February, 2009.

The potential size of this market is gigantic. As older hardware reaches the end of its lifecycle, hundreds and hundreds of stations will make the switch, taking advantage of ever-dropping prices for HD gear as fast-moving technology allows fiercely competing manufacturers to offer broadcasters equipment at lower and lower price points. As Doback says, “The days of the $30,000 ENG camera are over.” Indeed, if any lesson can be brought home from last April’s NAB it’s that digital acquisition is one of the fastest-changing areas in video technology.

This affects ENG—where a $10,000 camera can acquit itself well in the top DMAs, and where even cheaper HD cameras can and will be used for field acquisition in smaller markets. The impact is also being felt by the overall cinematography community, where an upstart like Red Camera (see “2K and 4K at NAB” on page 14) is threatening to upset the entire acquisition ecosystem with a product in development designed to produce 4K images that promises to list for $17,500.

Converting to HD news is not just a consequence of the DTV mandate. It’s not just a matter of having the bragging rights to being first in the community. And, for those who aren’t first, it’s not just a matter of keeping up with the competition. It’s a matter of survival.

According to a recent Harris Interactive poll, online will surpass network TV as the major news source for most consumers in five years. Can the impact on local news be far behind?

TV stations can take two approaches to meet this challenge. First, they can find moneymaking ways to move their local content online (and onto mobile devices). Local news—including weather, traffic and sports—happens to be the type of unique online material to which viewers will gravitate.

Then, they can use the smaller screens to promote their TV newscasts in their full HD glory. In other words, watch us at work on your computer, or on the train on your cell phone, but if you want the real thing, watch us on TV when you get home.

To continually inform our readers, we want to keep TVB’s Local HD News Map as current as possible. If you’re a manufacturer or dealer involved in the sale of HD equipment for broadcast news, let us know about recent or upcoming deals. We’ll keep you anonymous and confirm any information you send us with the broadcaster before adding it to our map.

Likewise, if you’re a station that is about to make the switch, or has already converted to HD news operations but is not on our map, please contact us so you can be added. Write to editor@televisionbroadcast.com.