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Gray Television to model future HD news conversions on Omaha strategy

Gray Television has added WOWT-TV in Omaha, NE, and KOLN/KGIN-TV serving Lincoln and Grand Island, NE, to its roster of stations delivering HD local newscasts.

The broadcast group, which operates 36 stations in 30 markets, now has five stations on-air delivering local HD newscasts and a goal of putting seven more on-air with local HD news by the end of 2010, says Gray Television VP of technology Jim Ocon. Of its remaining stations, Gray intends to complete conversion to 16:9 SD at three-quarters of them by the close of next year.

According to Ocon, the conversion of WOWT’s newscast to HD is part of a larger modernization effort encompassing news production workflow, control room automation and support for a separate mobile DTV channel that will serve as a template for Gray as it moves forward with its plans to update other group stations.

“Omaha was akin to a heart, lung and brain transplant,” says Ocon in describing the conversion. To put local HD news on-air at WOWT, Gray concentrated its capital spending in three areas: news automation based on the Ross OverDrive system, news editing and acquisition and studio conversion, he says. Added into the mix was a desire to use the Omaha station to gain experience with mobile DTV transmission, so the new news infrastructure also was designed to support transmission of a separate channel to broadcast news to viewers on the go.

Not only has the conversion meant a better-looking news product for HD viewers in Omaha, but, because of a conscious decision on the part of Gray, the broadcast group has realized operational savings based on the technology employed. “In Omaha, we are running newscasts with as few as two people,” Ocon says. “Compare that to other similarly sized stations that require 10 people to put a comparable show on-air.”

Gray has employed a similar approach at KOLN/KGIN serving Lincoln and Grand Island, although a Ross OverDrive system has not yet been deployed, Ocon says.

Both stations rely on a groupwide centralized graphics hub Gray has established in Lincoln. Graphic artists at the hub create and supply group stations with templates for HD and SD news graphics that reporters and news producers can draw upon to streamline the production and improve the accuracy of news graphics used in their newscasts.

About a year ago, the broadcast group began examining its entire graphics philosophy and how news templates were being created. The review was prompted in large part by the use of five to six different graphics systems by various Gray stations, Ocon says. Since then, the hub has pared down the number of systems in use to just a couple with an eye toward streamlining workflow, he adds.

According to Ocon, savings and efficiency aren’t exclusively the product of new technology. Greater savings also are possible via a reexamination of resources beyond the field, the studio and the control room. For example, at KOLN/KGIN, commercial spots are rolled into newscasts by an operator in the news control room rather than a master control operator, Ocon says. Additionally, the station’s general manager has made it a priority to ensure his personnel are skilled in three to four different jobs, Ocon says.

“In today’s broadcast environment, it’s necessary to deploy HD technology pragmatically,” he says. “Not only will doing so let you deliver great pictures to viewers, but it also will allow you to win on the cost of doing the news.”

Phil Kurz is a contributing editor to TV Tech. He has written about TV and video technology for more than 30 years and served as editor of three leading industry magazines. He earned a Bachelor of Journalism and a Master’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.