Local TV

No Thank You, Mr. Chairman

Rather than sell, extreme multicasters are using every speck of spectrum 4/30/2012 12:01:00 AM Eastern

On paper, Capitol Broadcasting’s station holdings in Charlotte,
N.C., may not look substantial: WJZY is a CW affiliate, and
WMYT airs MyNetworkTV programming in DMA No. 25. The
duopoly accounts for less than 10% of the market’s revenue,
according to BIA/Kelsey. But thanks to one of the
most aggressive multicasting strategies on the planet, Capitol’s
footprint on the Charlotte programming dial is much
greater. Indeed, the email signature for Shawn Harris, vice
president and general manager of WJZY-WMYT, takes up
a few inches when Antenna TV, The Country Network,
SonLife Broadcasting, Soul of the South and two separate
mobile DTV channels appear below his name.

As has become an annual occurrence, broadcasters heard
a plea from FCC chairman Julius Genachowski to consider
selling their spectrum at the NAB show in Las Vegas earlier
this month. Harris says the decision to sell or not is above
his pay grade, but he’s clearly intent on
using every iota of his allotted spectrum
to increase, and eventually monetize,
Capitol’s content. “We’re not letting any
of our bandwidth go to waste,” he said.

Call them extreme multicasters. Several
stations, and groups, around the
country are doing like Capitol and
maximizing their broadcast spectrum.
Morris Network, for one, broadcasts 15 network signals out of six stations.
Genachowski urged skeptical broadcasters to at least pick up the
phone and call the FCC to inquire about selling spectrum. Dean Hinson,
president of Morris Network, says no thanks.

“Our business is to provide content to the local marketplace,” Hinson
said. “We need every speck that we can get our hands on.”

Convention-al Wisdom

On April 16, Genachowski delivered a blunt 30-minute presentation
to a full room of broadcasters, with the FCC’s spectrum incentive auction
Topic A. “It’s an unprecedented opportunity [for broadcasters] to
improve their financial position,” said Genachowski. “Don’t be afraid to
be interested. Others already are.”

Genachowski said the opportunity is ripe for stations that are not
getting retrans cash and not airing local news. But those doing both
seem considerably less interested. Hinson says Morris Network invested
millions of dollars per station to upgrade to digital and pave the way for
a broad palette of multicast channels. WTVQ Lexington (Ky.), for one
(see Market Eye), airs ABC and MyNetworkTV in HD. With an
assist from its Harris Selenio encoder system, WTVQ picked up Antenna
TV in December, and airs it on its .3 channel.

Such outsize output is fairly typical within the Morris group. “We’ve
built out the revenue stream for the long term,” said Hinson. “Hopefully
it’s justifiable down the road. It’s a gamble, but we think it’s a gamble
worth taking.”

Charlotte’s Web of Digi-Nets

The Harris Selenio was also key to WJZYWMYT
making the most efficient use of its
broadcast capability. Around 18 months ago,
Shawn Harris says he was fielding calls from
reps of various digi-nets daily when he discussed
capacity issues with his director of
engineering, Robert Castillo. “Robert told
me, ‘Here’s where we are now, and here’s
where we could be,’” said Harris. “I was intrigued
by where we could be.”

They discussed pushing as many as a halfdozen
standard-def channels, but a key voice
in the Capitol hierarchy, president/CEO James
Goodmon, weighed in with his wishes. Capitol
is a major proponent of mobile DTV—flagship
WRAL Raleigh field-tested it back in
2008 and started airing its signal on Raleigh
city buses a year later—and Goodmon wanted
two mobile DTV channels in the mix, too.

Last summer, a pair of engineers representing Harris visited WJZY-WMYT
and worked with Castillo to get the ambitious plan off the
ground. “Eventually, after a couple tries, we got it going,” he said. (Castillo
adds that the Selenio encoder cost around $120,000.)

The mobile DTV offerings simulcast the local CW and the Country
Network. Playback devices sell for $108 at the local Best Buy, though
Harris knows it will be some time before mobile DTV usage hits critical
mass. He joked that there are probably a dozen devices in the market,
most of which are in the hands of TV station engineers. “We don’t kid
ourselves,” Harris said. “They’re not mainstream in the marketplace yet.”

A few weeks ago, WJZY’s 10 p.m. news, produced by Raycom’s
WBTV, moved to WMYT. The pair’s digi-nets include Country Network,
Antenna TV and Jimmy Swaggart’s SonLife. Harris and Castillo are working
to gear up the subchannels for local ad insertions (which should be
in place by the end of June) and will target direct response advertisers
as well as car dealers for exclusive sponsorship opportunities.

WMYT is poised to debut the regional African-American network Soul of
the South May 28. Should that channel fail to be ready, WMYT has a Plan
B: This TV was recently freed up when WBTV dropped it for Bounce TV.

“We’ll keep that in our back pocket,” said Harris. “We don’t want that
bandwidth to not go to good use.”

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