The new year rang in a brand new news service with the goal of removing the shouting pundits and endless panel discussions that make up most of today’s news networks in favor of getting back to a just-the-facts style of broadcasts. NewsNet, which launched its 24/7 network on Jan. 1, has seen a strong response to that format, according to Eric Wotila, NewsNet’s president.
Wotila spoke with TV Technology about the first two-plus months of NewsNet, its expansion and how networks have been able to utilize it thus far.
(The following is an edited version of the conversation.)
TV TECHNOLOGY: How has the rollout been going?
ERIC WOTILA: It has been absolutely phenomenal. We have had nothing but positive feedback both from viewers and affiliates. We’ve been continuing to expand the affiliate list on a weekly basis. I’d say we’ve been signing on roughly one or two affiliates a week, either getting actually on air or finalizing new deals. A lot of interesting stations and networks.
TVT: How many stations do you currently have? Any in prominent markets?
WOTILA: I believe we’re on 30 stations right now. Our biggest market right now is Chicago. We’re on in the Los Angeles DMA, kind of on the edge of the DMA, but we’re not in the Los Angeles Metro yet; that’s something we’re working on. Houston, Texas; San Francisco, Calif.; Detroit, Michigan; Orlando, Fla., is a recent addition, which is a larger market. And the list goes on from there.
TVT: How many affiliates are diginets?
WOTILA: Almost all of our affiliations are diginets. We do have Denver, Colo. So in Denver, we are on KCDO Channel 3 part time on their .1. So they carry us a few hours a day in blocks. And other than that, for the most part, most of our stations we’re on a .2, .3, etc., there are a couple that are carrying us on their primary subchannel.
TVT: What have been some of the biggest challenges so far?
WOTILA: The biggest challenges that we have faced have really been just rapid expansion. We’re very, very pleased the feedback we’ve gotten again from the affiliates and from the viewers. We’re trying to roll out into more markets, we’re also trying to beef up our staffing to produce more updates per day.
Right now, by design, a few times a day we kind of completely refresh our news wheel, and if big things break between then we do updates in between. But we’ve been trying to add more staff so we can really not only turn out more updates per day as they’re needed and a little more easily where we’re not straining resources, but also we would like to continue to expand the amount of content we’re producing originally as opposed to utilizing video from wire services, for instance.
TVT: Are affiliates producing local original content to share nationally?
WOTILA: I’m not entirely sure of the number of affiliates that are producing original content. We definitely do have numerous affiliates that are. Within our affiliation agreements, all of our affiliates are allowed to produce local news breaks and insert that in; in fact we provide tools for them to do so. We provide a graphics package and their music and everything, so they don’t have to go through all the steps of putting it together. A lot of stuff is provided to them to help make that process simpler.
I know our Baton Rouge, [La.], affiliate, WLST, has been very, very into the local news production. I know they’ve been doing local news breaks from day one, very committed to that local presence. I know we have several other affiliates that either are or have talked about producing local news breaks. Some of them are in the process of taking off and running it; they wanted to get NewsNet on air and then worry about inserts later.
So far, when affiliates are producing local content they are just airing it on their own station. Though we are in the process of working with our affiliates that are producing local content to contribute back to the network levels, so if something big happens and they can get footage of it, again, we will have more of our affiliates providing content to us that will air nationally.
TVT: What has changed in technology in recent years to help NewsNet get off the ground?
WOTILA: Technology has absolutely been instrumental in what we’ve been doing, especially on the local level. NewsNet grew out of our local 24-hour news operation here in northern Michigan and the 24-hour news operations we’ve helped build in Nebraska and other markets. The technology behind this, the channel-in-a-box type solutions, the digital jukebox equipment, video servers being able to be set up in kind of a jukebox format where we’re not having to sit down and record stuff in a loop. Of course, this technology has been around since the 90s, but I think it’s become more affordable, the solutions have become more advanced and we’re really able to do an incredible amount with the hardware that’s now available on a budget that was unheard of a few years ago.
On the same note, for newsgathering, IP delivery of content to us. Being able to film something and uplink it over a cellphone now, which is the way it’s done, even five years ago that was unheard of or barely heard of. We have a satellite truck, we don’t use it. We find the best way to do things is IP, internet. And that IP infrastructure is really making it affordable to do what we’re doing.
TVT: How did NATPE go?
WOTILA: I was there primarily for affiliate relations with NewsNet. Within a couple of weeks I should be able to talk about a couple of the deals we’ve been working to close from NATPE. I can say, we’re very excited to be working with and partnering with some stations in some larger markets that are going to be adding NewsNet.
And aside from bringing some deals together at NATPE, we had a lot of buzz, a lot of interest in the network from everyone we talked to. That was of course two or three weeks after we launched. I’ve just heard the buzz about us continue and continue to increase. I’m approached on a daily basis by people, stations and viewers that have just recently heard of us and love what we’re doing and that’s what we saw at NATPE. I think at NATPE it was a little bit of ok this is new, what’s this? OK, we’ve seen the demo, we like it. And now, a month and a half later, we’re getting to the point where people are like ok this is really cool, I’ve heard of this, I want to be a part of this.