Nearly three months after clearing most of their personnel out of their buildings and into remote work environments, many station groups say bringing them back will be a slow and highly cautious process.
A TVNewsCheck webinar featuring top engineers from Fox, Tegna and Gray found stations are settling well into their COVID-19-induced remote workflows. Some of those workflows, including IP contribution, cloud-based collaboration and production automation, are likely to stay even after the pandemic subsides. “There’s no going back to what it was before this started,” says Tegna’s Robert Lydick.
CBS Local Digital has continued to spin up new OTT channels despite the coronavirus-prompted remote working shift. Executives say months of close collaboration between CBSN, the network’s streaming arm, and CBS Television Stations’ digital team allowed the group to stay on its charted course.
Emily Barr, president and CEO of Graham Media Group, is holding the line against layoffs, furloughs or salary cuts, but still sees a rocky second quarter unfolding. She says being communicative and honest with employees has been the most essential part of managing through an unprecedented crisis.
Graham Media Group President and CEO Emily Barr credits local GMs, news directors and sales leaders with spinning up creative and inspiring efforts to pull their markets through the crisis.
ABC Owned Television Stations had begun moving many of its workflows into the cloud over a year before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, making for a faster and smoother transition once remote workflows became necessary. Tish Graham, the group’s VP of OTV technology, says the current crisis will “absolutely” speed up the industry’s transition to IP and the cloud.
Pat LaPlatney, Co-CEO of Gray Television, says there’s “no question” it will be a hard quarter and year ahead for ad sales, but there are signs of hope in new and returning advertisers, along with new categories, later this spring.
“The Good Stuff,” billed as stories that inspire, always delivers with stories so uplifting that they often produce a tear or two. And if ever there was a time when local TV news viewers needed a dose of inspiration, it’s now.
Many weeks into its remote production, news magazine Inside Edition straddles the need to maintain a certain level of polish and the stripped-down necessities of the moment. Host Deborah Norville, for one, would like to see some of the show’s more minimalist new features stick around.
Richard Friedel, Fox Television Stations’ engineering chief, says the pandemic will likely accelerate the industry’s transition to IP and the cloud, slow down the NextGen TV rollout this year and permanently shift many station operations remotely. “We are going to have different workflows,” he says. “Some will probably continue forever.”
“Unscripted and as real as it gets, and even shot on their own iPhones,” said Scott Brady, WDRB Louisville’s creative service director. “We wanted the news personalities to drive the content, and share their unique perspective with detail from these past six weeks.”
Localish, the millennial-targeted project from ABC’s stations that jumped from digital beginnings to linear broadcast, has expanded its horizons in the wake of COVID-19. It’s using its signature approach to positive, community-oriented stories to circle back on past subjects in a virus-changed world and explore wider corners beyond the group’s markets. Above, Michael Koenigs, the executive producer of Localish.
The syndie star and her husband have pared down her talk/cooking show to a minimalist, makeup-free affair from their home kitchen in the Adirondacks. Shooting on iPhones, cooking largely from pantry staples and taking personal questions from viewers in every episode, Ray’s producer says she’s “the right woman for the right moment.” (Photo: Rachael Ray)
E.W. Scripps President and CEO Adam Symson feels the audience increase its stations have experienced since the pandemic will endure through to the other side of the crisis. For now, he says, the company is on a firm financial footing and jobs are secure, “but the real questions that we have to wait and see on are how deep this goes and how long it lasts.”
Reporter/anchor Chris O’Connell feels a new relevance to his work at Philadelphia’s WTXF as he reports now as a one-man band from the field or his car. But through this “seismic shift,” he misses the camaraderie he used to share with the station’s videographers.
Tamron Hall took her syndicated talk show into pandemic remote production from her kitchen with a brand-new showrunner, a toddler and a squawking parrot in tow. She says even without the studio audience with whom she loves to connect, the show’s intimacy hasn’t been lost in the transition.
Washington’s WRC has launched a weekly half-hour show aimed at taking local kids’ wide-ranging questions on the pandemic and its impact on their lives. The show’s creator, Scott MacFarlane (above with his son Jonathan), says the questions are so good, he and his colleagues should’ve been asking them weeks ago.
The long-running entertainment show’s executive producer compares Entertainment Tonight’s new way of remote working to a relay race, but host Kevin Frazier is geeking out over getting to use his arsenal of cameras and home tech to keep the show looking sharp.
Gray-owned WALB Albany, Ga., found itself at the center of one of the coronavirus’ earliest and unlikeliest hotspots in rural Georgia. Its news coverage is tackling the virus’ ravages on both the community’s health and its fragile, poverty-laden economy. (Photo: Phoebe Putney Health System)
Fox News Channel’s panel show The Five relies on the combative camaraderie of its longtime hosts. Now patched together from five separate locations, its characteristic conversations can sometimes literally miss a beat.
Many of the staff at Gray’s New Orleans Fox affiliate faced the reporting challenge of a lifetime 15 years ago when Hurricane Katrina struck. The coronavirus pandemic has compelled them to write a new playbook and yet lean on old comforts like local music. Above, WVUE and Katrina veteran Lee Zurik working from home.
Fox-owned WNYW in New York has been on the front lines of the coronavirus epicenter for weeks, weathering sick employees, virus vulnerabilities and the gauntlet of covering a metastasizing story with endless moving parts. “It’s the most challenging environment I’ve ever had to manage through,” says VP-GM Lew Leone. Above, Rosanna Scotto interviewing Dr. Anthony Fauci.
Stacy Owen, president and GM of NBCU’s Bay Area stations, says amid the thousands of new complexities of broadcasting in the pandemic, keeping connected daily with staffers — especially those working from home — remains her top priority.
NBC O&O WRC Washington (DMA 7) is launching News 4 Kids, a 30-minute weekly newscast aimed at helping children through the coronavirus pandemic. News 4 Kids will debut Saturday, April 11, at 12:30 p.m. and Sunday at 5:30 a.m. and will run through April and most likely beyond. The series, which will tell stories and providing […]
As a digital-centric news organization, Newsy was better prepared than many to shift to remote working conditions. What’s changed is a tighter collaborative relationship with other E.W. Scripps-owned sister companies, including Court TV and TV stations.
Nate Johnson, NBU Owned Stations’ director of weather operations, says the group’s naturally techy meteorologists made a smooth transition to doing their forecasts from home. Viewers have been grateful for the domestic snapshots and fleeting returns to pre-pandemic life they’ve gotten in the process.
Fox-owned WAGA in Atlanta has transitioned smoothly to a remote working environment for most of its staff. Its GM and news director say lots of advance planning and regular all-hands virtual meetings are helping a coronavirus-driven diasporic station stay together as a unit. Above, the station’s temporary studio outside its building.
Jerry Martin, Graham Media-owned KPRC’s wry VP and GM in Houston, has a reluctant pragmatist’s approach to his station’s coronavirus pivot: “Keep playing the game like it’s going to get worse.” (Al Torres Photography)
A solid business contingency plan gave Fox-owned WTTG and WDCA in Washington, D.C., a leg up in pivoting for the coronavirus pandemic. VP and GM Patrick Paolini says a priority now is staying on top of the news deluge while keeping staffers and advertisers calm amid the uncertainty.
Graham Media-owned WDIV in Detroit now has about 90% of its staff working from home, shifting quickly on the advice of its health reporter (who is an ER doctor) and a senior producer with a public health background.