The expense of upgrading a station’s infrastructure, newsroom and studio for HD news is burdensome in small markets where revenue is a fraction of what it is in the large markets and margins are much thinner. But a handful small-market stations (DMA 100-plus) have made the switch to HD and others are phasing it in or making do with HD-lite (SD with a 16×9 aspect ratio).
HD news is old news in most of the nation’s top 25 TV DMAs, where the network O&Os and stations belonging to large station groups dominate. But markets with at least one station broadcasting HD begin thinning out below DMA 25. And below DMA 100, they are few and far between.
It’s not surprising. The expense of upgrading a station’s infrastructure, newsroom and studio for HD news is burdensome in small markets where revenue is a fraction of what it is in the large markets and margins are much thinner.
But a handful of small-market stations (DMA 100-plus) have made the switch to HD and others are phasing it in or making do with HD-lite (SD with a 16×9 aspect ratio).
The leader in small-market HD news may be Raycom Media. The Montgomery, Ala.-based station group now has three small-market stations broadcasting HD news from the studio and one of them is even HD in the field, something that a lot of Top 25 HD news stations can’t yet say.
That all-HD station is WMBF, a brand new NBC affiliate that opened its doors in Myrtle Beach-Florence, S.C. (DMA 104) in August 2008.
“Not many times do you get a chance to build a station from the ground up,” says Raycom’s head of technology Dave Folsom.
Raycom’s other small-market HD stations — NBC affiliate WSFA Montgomery, Ala. (DMA 118) and WECT Wilmington, N.C. (DMA 132) — are works in progress since not all the HD production components are yet in place.
The stations made the move to HD fairly quickly, Folsom says. “The cameras, switcher and new set and lighting were a matter of three months and, bingo, we’re off to the races.”
The HD gear includes Omneon servers; Panasonic P2 camcorders for ENG; Snell & Wilcox Kahuna switchers; BitCentral editing and, via a hub in Charlotte, N.C., a Miranda-centric master control including HD graphics.
Still to come (probably next year) are HD graphics, weather and radar. In the meantime, the stations will continue to present them in 16×9 SD. “When you do graphics in SD 16×9, it’s not terribly obvious that it’s not HD,” says Folsom.
Folsom also notes that the Kahuna switcher plays out clips in HD. “So some of our opens and closes, and the animated panels on the legacy 4×3 material is in HD, thanks to the switcher.”
“We’re not buying any more SD equipment at all, none,” Folsom says. “If someone needs a new weather system, it’s HD. If someone needs a CG, it’ll be an HD CG. It’ll be a natural progression at all Raycom Media stations over the next few years.”
Other small-market broadcasters are taking the same slow-and-steady approach.
News-Press & Gazette Broadcasting, for instance, is working toward HD newscasts at three of its small-market stations: ABC affiliate KIFI Idaho Falls-Pocatello, Idaho (DMA 162); KESQ Palm Springs, Calif. (DMA 142), and NBC affiliate KTVZ Bend, Ore. (DMA 189).
Field cameras at all three stations have been upgraded to HD. KESQ and KTVZ now have Sony XDCAM camcorders and KIFI has Sony EX3s. Graphics are also HD-capable, with a Chyron at KTVZ, Avid Deko at KESQ and Leitch-Inscriber at KIFI.
But since none of the stations have HD studio cameras or HD switchers, they continue to broadcast in widescreen 16×9 SD.
“We hope to upgrade the missing pieces within 2010, budget permitting,” says Jim DeChant, director of technical operations for News Press & Gazette Broadcasting.
DeChant says that viewer feedback on the 16X9 SD has been “excellent.” “Until you have everyone in the market producing in pure HD all the way through, if you fill the screen, the viewers’ perception is that they’re getting an HD broadcast.
“We’re innovative in bringing widescreen first to virtually every market except El Paso, which we lost by a couple of days. And we’re close to No. 1, if not No. 1, in every market.”
Getting to full HD is still the goal, says KESQ General Manager Bob Allen. “We have to get on board with producing news, weather and everything else in HD, or we’ll be the equivalent of an AM radio station, left in the technological dust. As revenue permits, we’re replacing SD equipment with HD equipment.”
Another example of the incremental approach to HD is KTRV, Block Communications’ Fox affiliate in Boise, Idaho (DMA 112).
Following an upgrade of its studio this summer, it’s been able to produce HD news, but it still can’t broadcast it.
“Master control and HD core routing have to be upgraded before that can happen,” says Advanced Broadcast Solutions President Mark Siegel, the integrator who worked on the project. “And the only thing that’s preventing them from moving forward is funds.”
The studio upgrade came in at $250,000, and master control and routing will add another $200,000 to the price tag, not an insignificant cost in today’s tight market, Siegel says. The station’s goal is to make this move next fiscal year.
Included in the studio upgrade are Panasonic AW-HE100 robotic HD studio cameras and a Broadcast Pix Slate integrated production system that includes a 2 M/E production switcher, DVE, Inscriber CG, still store, multi-view, robotic camera control and router.
Just how long KTRV and other small-market stations take to make the transition to full HD news depends mostly on the economy. “Hopefully things will be better,” says Folsom. “But everyone will tell you the jury is out.”