Facing the challenge of local HD news

Stations considering the move to capturing, producing and airing their local newscasts in HD should work closely with their vendors to negotiate the technology costs and seek help from their fellow broadcasters with experience. That was the message from a panel of station representatives who have completed the transition and shared their experiences as part of an RTNDA discussion at the NAB New York conference last week.

All had similar difficulties when moving to HD, yet said it was worth the extra costs, training and long hours. They said there’s nothing like an HD migration project to unite station personnel for a common cause.

Leesa Moore Craigie, director of news operations and special projects at CBS affiliate WRAL-DT, said because they were one of the first to do local HD news (in 2000), they had to wait for the technology to catch up to what they wanted to accomplish. The station currently shoots HD in the studio and the field, and has an HD helicopter in the sky over Raleigh-Durham, NC.

Citing the vision of Jim Goodmon, Moore said HD had become a brand identity for the station and had helped to attract additional viewers. She also said that as a customer service, her station engineers continued to go out to people’s homes personally when HD reception problems occurred.

She said when they pitched this to management early on, they were careful to explain that going HD would not negatively affect its existing analog viewers. “In fact, we’ve improved their [analog] picture with downconverted HD signals,” she said.

WRAL’s latest innovation is moving to a tapeless news environment, based on the BitCentral Precis system. They have been doing a lot of tape-based editing for the past five years.

Dave Sirak, news operations manager at WFTV, the ABC affiliate in Orlando, FL, said he watched and learned some lessons from WRAL and other sister Cox Broadcasting stations around the country before making the leap to HD. His station’s migration took about five months and ended with its first on-air HD newscast in June.

Sirak said his station began shooting in widescreen SD about a year ago, in order to get viewers comfortable with the wider aspect ratio. All 4:3 material is now converted to 16:9 while stories are developed and finished. Camera operators make allowances for the analog audience while shooting widescreen for HD viewers. The station is using Sony HD cameras (with Canon lenses) in the studio and Sony HDV cameras for special projects. They currently use Panasonic DVCPro50 SD cameras in the field.

Will Wright, general manager of HDNews, a 24/7 all-HD news channel that’s part of Cablevision’s VOOM HD package, said when the VOOM service started in July 2003, he knew that presenting news in HD would be successful, it just was a matter of time. The service is available on satellite via EchoStar’s DISH Network.

Wright said the key to their cost-effective transition was automating as many of the processes as possible. This enables stories to get on the air faster and reduces head count. In fact, six people produce the entire 12-minute newscast, which appears throughout the day.

Working closely with the News12 bureaus located throughout the tri-state area, HDNews has put together a highly automated workflow that includes a Grass Valley Kalypso HD switcher, Pixel Power graphics, Vertigo templates, Accuweather system and Harris automation. In the studio, they’ve got three Panasonic DVCPRO HD cameras on robotic pedestals, while in the field they are using several Canon HDV camcorders that are dispersed among stringers remotely located.

Leveraging its good relationships with equipment suppliers, Workman said, is key. For example, he went to Accuweather for suggestions on how to keep costs down and the company developed a custom system that displayed weather conditions automatically and allowed its weather forecasts to originate from Accuweather’s headquarters in State College, PA.

A spokesman for the NAB said that less than 20 stations are currently capturing and broadcasting their local newscasts in native HD resolutions.

For more information and a full transcript, visit www.lostremote.com/2006/10/25/rtnda-going-hd-and-keeping-costs-reasonable.