HD, Digital Still In Infancy At Most Stations

On eve of NAB 2011, a new report by Positive Flux surveys executives at more than 350 U.S. TV stations and finds huge untapped potential, including more than $250 million in annual unrealized cost savings for stations. It also finds that while many station executives see HDTV conversion as a competitive necessity, they have not recognized the inherent opportunities for process improvement and cost-savings the changeover can bring.

Despite the enormous perceived penetration of digital television and HDTV, a lot of work remains to fully convert U.S. TV stations to these technologies. The continued movement toward evolving stations’ operations and technical architectures represents large opportunities for the stations, as well as for vendors and service providers, to find ways to make these changes and enable cost structure improvements at the same time. These are some of the conclusions of a new study, U.S. TV Stations Infrastructure: The HD Transition Has Just Begun, released by Positive Flux Inc., a firm that specializes in transforming media companies to address new opportunities.

The study surveyed senior engineering management at 362 U.S. TV stations of all sizes including station groups, O&Os and independents. Positive Flux says the results provide the “most comprehensive and up-to-date view of the state of systems architecture and operational methods employed at network-affiliated stations.”

“As the broadcast industry gathers for its annual NAB Show [in Las Vegas next week], it is important to bear in mind that the fundamental priorities driving stations’ plans and decisions are quite different from the headlines,” says Larry Thaler, president of Positive Flux. “To make the most of the latest opportunities, engineers and their suppliers first need to fully optimize the fundamentals of station operations. Digital signal paths and true support for HD are necessary platforms. Optimized, file-based workflows, cost reduction and new business enablers then emerge as drivers for change.”

From media production to newsroom operations, traffic function to master control, the report identifies technologies and innovations that represent cost savings opportunities for stations or business opportunities for vendors. It also finds that while many station executives see HDTV conversion as a competitive necessity, they have not recognized the inherent opportunities for process improvement and cost-savings the changeover can bring.

Among its findings the report identifies:

  • Nearly $250 million in untapped annual cost savings to U.S. broadcasters.
  • Stations are only beginning to embrace HD production. Only 38% of surveyed stations have made their internal production and master control systems fully HD.
  • While HD control rooms are one of the earliest investments considered by stations, only 45% have one or more HD control rooms.
  • Stations groups have barely begun to realize the cost savings from shared production synergies, representing a huge untapped economic benefit.
  • While almost 90% of stations have adopted non-linear editing, most have yet to take the next step of developing unified workflows.
  • Although all stations pass their network’s HD feed, many have merely inserted an HD bypass switcher to air network content and therefore still need cost-effective solutions to upgrade their Master Control facilities.
  • Station engineers lack visibility into where their signals go after leaving their facilities. As stations embrace new economic models and new technology including retransmission consent, interactivity, and addressable advertisements, knowledge of these downstream paths will become critical for new business development.

A complete executive summary of the report is available at


Comments (4)

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Hope Yen and Charles Babington says:

April 7, 2011 at 4:04 pm

Doesn’t surprise me. New technologies are difficult for older engineers to fully understand, so a ‘head in the sand’ posture is often adopted. Ownership is as uncertain of the future as ever, with Genachowski nibbling at the very spectrum the broadcaster is supposidly able to make money with. So why invest if, a) you don’t fully see the return on investment, aka “savings”, and, b) you’re not sure your business (broadcast TV) is even gonna EXIST 10-15 years from now?

Teri Green says:

April 7, 2011 at 5:32 pm

That’s all BS. We have huge unemployment rates all over. A lot of qualified people out of work, so why aren’t the companies weeding out the deadwood and hiring the people who can do the job. It’s not a learning curve, it’s pure laziness on their part

Cassandra Hamilton says:

April 8, 2011 at 2:57 pm

A classic example of bad implementation is a local station here in the middle of Georgia. They take SD 4:3 content and do stretch-o-vision to make it SD 16:9. It looks terrible. The sound is fine. But when they get 16:9 HD content and transmit it in 16:9 HD, it looks and sounds outstanding.

Ben Gao says:

April 11, 2011 at 9:32 am

We’ve got to knock some sense into the spectrum-robbing runaway train being engineered by your local spectrum squatting cellphone companies, with the train engineer Genachowski and passengers being members of Congress with their tickets paid for by the great broadband lobby! Derail this ‘train from hell’, then we’ll see Mobile DTV and more investment in HDTV! Millions of people are just now finding out that they can get (better) HDTV with an antenna, and are doing so; so now it NOT the time to take away free OTA broadcasts and marry-up 3 channels into one SDTV signal! Why buy a big TV if 3 stations have to share one signal and they all end-up being 480 broadcasts?

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