TV stations in a market should band together and and create a facility that would provide centralized play-out services for all of the stations’ multiple program streams.The synergies could be huge, and would not be burdened with the heavy fiber connectivity costs that have discouraged regional and national centralcasting efforts.
Consider: One Market, One Master Control
Centralcasting has been de rigeur for television station groups, both large and small, for about a decade now. A single centralcast facility warehousing content, creating centralized graphics packages, running master traffic and automation programs can provide huge economies of scale for TV station groups.
Typically, however, the savings of centralcasting can be greatly diminished by the cost of sending material to and from the stations and their transmitters. Fiber interconnection can still be expensive, even with the advent of file transfers and non-real-time feeds. Quality cannot be sacrificed.
We have long used technology to make broadcasting simpler and more cost-efficient. Is it now time to use technology and a change in philosophy to realize a new level of efficiencies with possibly no capital outlay?
Consider what I call market centralcasting or metrocasting. What if all of the stations in a large market were to form an LLC to fund a central facility (either an existing facility or a new, purpose-built one) that provided centralized play-out services for all of the stations’ multiple program streams?
The synergies could be huge, and would not be burdened with heavy fiber connectivity costs. This is not a huge step away from some smaller markets in which one station manages another through LMAs and other contracts.
The landscape of broadcasting is changing faster than ever. Ten years ago, if the concept of metrocasting had been brought to the GMs in any major market, the bearer would have been shown the door — immediately. Today, perhaps, management would be more receptive.
Already, the most competitive aspect of television broadcasting, the local newsrooms, have stuck a toe in the “cooperation waters,” with greater sharing of material — pool cameras, shared news services and shared helicopters.
Perhaps the concept of getting all stations in a market to agree on a company structure is too far-fetched. But suppose an outside company were to build a central playout facility in a market and offered fully staffed services?
Taking advantage of today’s available technology, it is possible to build a plant which is a good deal less complex than a current TV facility with the flexibility to handle most any traffic system (75% of the stations in the country are now using the same traffic system in any case); most any network structure; and any number of playout streams.
Such facilities would be unencumbered with offices, newsrooms, equipment storage and studios. Their only function would be to provide playout facilities.
The stations would no longer have to worry about the nuts and bolts (and pains and headaches) of getting the basic programming to the transmitter, and could concentrate on the things that make them special (and money) — local news, local sales and the brand.
Cindy Hutter Cavell is an engineer and practice manager at Cavell, Mertz & Associates. She has been VP of engineering at several TV stations in the country, and GM at the Fox Sports Net playout center in the Houston area. Her specialty is developing realistic, budget-oriented multicast facilities for groups and TV stations.