TECH SPOTLIGHT

WKRN, WZTV Making Nashville All-HD Town

They are the market’s final stations to convert their news operations to high def. Sinclair’s WZTV will feature an interactive set, while Young’s WKRN has HD capability from the field ready to go. And Nashville’s other news producers — WSMV and WTVF — aren’t resting on their laurels either, adding new sets, graphics, file-based editing systems and news automation to stay cutting edge.

Nashville will be joining the HD big leagues over the next two months when the last two of its four news producing stations upgrade to high-def.

Young’s WKRN (ABC) and Sinclair ’s WZTV (Fox) and are investing big bucks to join Landmark’s WTVF (CBS) and Meredith’s WSMV (NBC) in airing news with sharper images and some added sparkle.

Meanwhile, DMA 29’s HD news pioneers are not sitting still.

WSMV, which introduced HD news three years ago, is planning to enhance the look of its newscast with a new set and some updated graphics.

News leader WTVF, the first to offer HD news four-and-a-half years ago, has upgraded its newsroom and become the first news operation to offer regular HD reports from the field.

Mark Nadeau, director of TV production for Sinclair, downplays the competitive factor in WZTV’s decision to offer HD news. “We’re not in a race with anyone; we’re just kind of doing our own thing.”

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However,  he acknowledges that consumers have come to expect HD. By making the HD investment,  he says, WZTV will have “every advantage … [it] can possibly have to compete.”

WZTV is hoping to distinguish itself with a splashy new interactive set, Nadeau says. Among its key features is a CNN-style wall of screens made up of 12 individual NEC screens that can be linked together to show one picture, or broken down into smaller components to display multiple images.

“They could pretty much put on a rock show if they wanted to as far as graphics and video,” says Dan Devlin, creative director of Devlin Design Group, which designed the set.

“I don’t think we’ve ever done a set that has been more technology driven,” he adds. “The set is much more interactive, much more geared toward story telling. The visuals are pretty amazing.”

Other HD equipment WZTV is investing in includes Panasonic AK-HC 1500 HD studio cameras, Panasonic P2 HD cameras in the field, and Ross Video’s OverDrive news automation in the control room.

Over at WKRN, General Manager Stan Knott confirmed that the stations would transition to HD news in the coming months. “You always want to be modern and in the forefront of technology.”

But he declines to discuss just how it is making the move other than to say WKRN has had HD cameras in the field for some time.

WSMV, which finishes a close second to WTVF in the local news ratings race, has been airing HD news since September 2008, but it’s giving itself a fresh look with a brand new set this fall “to support more of a high-def environment,” says Larry Oaks, Meredith’s chief technology officer. 

“It’s not a competitive issue for us; it’s maintenance and continuing to develop our high-definition product,” he says. “It’s time for a change. We’re probably not being driven by anything going on in Nashville.”

“It’s just a re-envisioning and rebranding,” adds WSMV CTO Wendy Reed. “It’s been a long time since we’ve done a set remake, and it stems from the fact that we are redoing our graphics package and wanted the set to go along with the graphics overhaul.” 

Reed says the station has the capability of shooting HD video in the field, but typically doesn’t do so because of the expense, logistics and lack of consumer demand. WSMV uses Grass Valley Ignite news automation. For the set design, WSMV turned to the FX Group.

Last year’s city-wide flooding left its mark on WTVF, which introduced HD news in February 2007 to coincide with CBS’s broadcast of the Super Bowl. The station’s entire news operation was flooded with five inches of waste water, requiring it to set up makeshift work stations in upstairs hallways  and training rooms.  

While in a state of upheaval, the station decided to build a brand new newsroom and invest in taking some of the bumps out of the work flow.  Among other things, it switched to Avid’s NewsCutter file-based editing system.

“We were kind of changing the tires while the vehicle was going down the road,” says WTVF’s Operations Manager Mark Martin.

For the past few years, WTVF would occasionally shoot investigative stories in HD. But with the purchase this spring of Sony PMW-350 XDCAM camcorders, which record to SxS memory cards, the stations is now routinely delivering HD news from the field — the only station in the market that does or plans to in the immediate future.

WTVF is the only station in the market not using an automated news production system. “We feel that the product we produce allows us a certain flexibility and ability to respond in a way that maybe our competitors can’t,” says Gibson Pritchard, chief engineer. “What we’re doing is not broken; it works well for us.”


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