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Belo Forges Into New Era

Apr 21, 2003  •  Post A Comment

KING-TV isn’t sure how it’s going to make money on high-definition television, but that’s not stopping the forward-thinking TV station from launching what it bills as the first locally produced program in HD. The Belo-owned NBC affiliate in Seattle is slated to begin carrying its homegrown daily magazine show, Evening Magazine, in high-definition Monday, April 21, the first time the show will have been shot, edited and broadcast completely in the HD format.
The initiative is part of Belo’s larger companywide strategy to move aggressively with new technology ventures, including high definition, news sharing over IP networks and the build-out of a high-speed network linking its 20 stations.
“[The ROI] is yet to come. First we have to put product out there,” Jay Cascio, VP programming for KING said.
KING has aired Evening Magazine specials in HD, allowing the broadcaster to test the cameras and editing equipment and gauge viewer response. Now, the cost for such equipment is more affordable for daily production and broadcast. “HD cameras have been around for a few years, but improvement and pricing is now within range,” he said.
KING purchased six Sony high-definition cameras and four Sony XPRI nonlinear video editing systems. The HD cameras cost about $45,000 each and the editing system starts at $100,000. A comparable camera alone would have cost about $70,000 three years ago, said Sony.
Tonight’s episode is the 11th Annual Best of Western Washington special, and the show will air regular episodes in HD starting tomorrow. The nightly magazine show is a smorgasbord that covers entertainment, people and issues and has visited locales such as Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.
Boston’s Hearst-Argyle-owned ABC station WCVB-TV carries a nightly news magazine show, Chronicle, and has broadcast it in HD 11 times. The station will produce more Chronicle specials in HD but does not have any plans at the moment to broadcast the show in HD regularly.
KING will also produce and broadcast Northwest Backroads, its Saturday evening show, in HD starting this weekend. The show, in its sixth year, covers the unusual and off-the-beaten-track stories of the Northwest.
Evening Magazine, which bowed in 1986 and has been locally produced in its entirety since 1991, generated a 6.8/12 in the 2003 February sweeps. The show airs at 7 p.m. and is the highest-rated locally produced regularly scheduled entertainment show in a metered market in the country, according to Nielsen.
The HD effort is one component of Belo’s corporate technology strategy. The company plans to test this quarter Sony’s e-VTR technology, which moves the output of a VTR from a tape to a data file, with Belo’s Washington bureau and five Texas TV stations. The technology should allow the station group to transmit nonlive stories over IP networks to share news between its stations and reduce the expense and reliance on satellite feeds and affiliate feed services, effectively creating a mini-network within the group. The video is sent in its native format without being compressed, which means editing can be done seamlessly on the other end, said Craig Harper, director of engineering for the station group.
“Say we send a crew to a story. They could go to a hotel, edit in the room and connect to DSL and transfer the story in an hour,” he said. The crew only needs a laptop and a portable e-VTR to edit and feed without using microwave or satellite transmission.
In addition, Belo will rollout Titan automation systems from Sundance Digital at all of its stations by the end of next year. Phoenix’s independent station KTVK-TV will be the first to install it this summer. Coupled with Thomson Grass Valley’s PVS 3000 servers, which can produce and broadcast commercials and content in both standard- and high-definition, the station group could record a syndicated program once and then “push” it out to all the stations that carry it, Mr. Harper said. Belo will introduce the servers at its stations starting in the second half of the year. Belo is also continuing to build out its high-speed network, currently in place in Texas, among all of its stations.