Sinclair Broadcast Group plans to complete this summer local HD news rollouts at three of its 12 news producing stations: KAAB-TV in San Antonio, WZTV in Nashville, TN, and WGME in Portland, ME, said Del Park, Sinclair vice president of engineering and operations, during an interview at the 2011 NAB Show.
Preparing the stations for producing local HD news includes replacing studio and ENG cameras (see Sinclair Broadcast commits to Panasonic HD for news photographers in 12 markets), replacement of SD Avid editing stations with HD versions, new master control, news control rooms, lighting and sets. "It's a forklift upgrade for HD because there is nothing you can use from the analog world or even the SD world in the HD world," Parks said.
The HD rollout is a continuation of the effort Sinclair abruptly halted as dark clouds appeared on the economic horizon in 2007, Parks said. "Not that I'm a great economist or anything, but I was reading the tea leaves and thought things are not looking good," Parks said. With gasoline pushing $4 per gallon, discretionary spending vanished, he recalled.
"We were one year into our HD conversion, and I went to my boss and said, 'You know, I don't have a good feeling. Should we really be spending money? I think we could have a problem in the future,'" Parks said. Indeed, Sinclair shelved what Parks described as his "really cool plan" to roll out HD news and settled in to ride out the recession. "We hit that recession in 2008 and 2009, and thank God we did (put the plan on hold), because I have been in this business almost 39 years, and it was the absolute worst environment for broadcast that I've ever seen," he said.
While the station group ceased its HD upgrades, demand for HD technology didn't go away. It simply was delayed, Parks said. Before Sinclair pulled the plug, the station group had converted master control in nine markets to HD, and of those markets, completed upgrades to HD local news production and presentation in four. With the economy brightening, the station group this year plans to upgrade master control rooms in 18 markets to HD, in addition to the local HD news rollouts in San Antonio, Nashville and Portland, ME, Parks said. When done, Sinclair will have four markets left for HD conversion, which is scheduled for next year, he said
One area that will remain SD for the foreseeable future is live field contribution. "Do you really need to see the mayor in HD? Or, is 16:9 good enough?" Parks asked rhetorically. Contributing ENG and SNG live shots requires additional investment, something Parks said the station group did not feel compelled to take on. "That's not to rule out that we won't do that in the future. But for right now, I think our investment money is better spent helping to roll out more HD master controls and HD news," he said.