Prather Calls for Unity on Mobile DTVNews Tech Summit 2010 speaker weighs in on future of live trucks, other issues 9/20/2010 12:01:00 AM Eastern
Gray Television President/COO
Robert Prather, who presides over the
group’s 36 stations, including WKYT
Lexington and WOWT Omaha, thinks broadcasters’
splinter efforts on mobile DTV are “a
blow to the industry.” Ahead of his appearance
as a keynote speaker at B&C’s and TV Technology’s
News Technology Summit in Nashville Sept.
22-23, he shares his insights on mobile DTV and
other top news tech issues with B&C Deputy
Editor Michael Malone. He also says that broadcasters
will be looking to figure out a way to get
rid of their live trucks in the next two years. An
edited transcript of the interview follows.
What are some recent technological advances
that have helped the Gray stations
gather or share news content?
We’re looking at a lot of different things. We’re
going to Ross overdrive switchers, which are
helping out with automation. One thing we
just ordered is Streambox technology, which allows
you to do live shots using Internet Protocol
as opposed to having a live truck in the field. I
think this can be huge for us; I’m convinced that
live trucks are obsolete and it’s just a matter of
time before they’ll all be replaced. They’re too
expensive to operate and too cumbersome to set
up, and it looks like there’s technology out there
that can virtually replace them. In the next year
or two, everybody will be looking to figure out
a way to get rid of their live trucks.
We continue to look at every technological
advance we can. We’re spending a lot of time
finding ways to gather news more efficiently,
ways to automate where we can and where
it makes sense. But we can’t hurt our news
coverage, because news is our most valuable
product and we want to make sure we keep
the emphasis on being the best provider of local
news in our markets.
How far along is Gray on its local high-definition plans?
We have 6-7 stations in progress right now.
We’ll have half of [the group] done this year,
then hopefully have the rest done next year.
How big a deal is mobile DTV, and what
is Gray doing to get ready for it?
I was real high on it a year ago. We’re testing
in two markets–Omaha, and then Lincoln. I
think the technology is clearly there, but when
[a number of] station groups broke off and
formed their own group, the Pearl [Project], I
think it really hurt us as an industry. I think
this could put us in danger of not being able
to hold onto live mobile, and it could wind up
going to the phone companies. Their model is
totally different than the model that the OMVC
has been working on. I believe it’s a real blow
to the TV industry, frankly.
Are the Pearl Project groups not receptive
to the concerns of the station groups
outside the circle?
They’ve got a totally different model than
what we were working toward; they formed
a separate group and are pretty much going
their own way. I think it could be real damaging
for the industry.
Five hundred stations are looking to do their
own deal [the Mobile500 Alliance, which includes
Gray]. I think having two different organizations
doing their own thing is not good for
us as an industry. I hope there would be a way
for the two groups to get together, but right now
nothing seems to be happening.
Is the multimedia-journalist concept a
growing part of Gray’s newsgathering
Yes, definitely. We’re trying to do more and
more of it all the time. I think virtually everybody
in our industry will be doing this in the
Is Gray in the market to buy or sell
I doubt it. I think the market is still pretty shut
down for acquisitions. We’re trying to pay down
debt—that’s our focus right now.
How about working out shared-services
agreements? Is that something you’re
looking to do in your markets?
We’re definitely looking at that—that has potential
to it, very much so.
Is the Gray deal to manage seven Young
stations finally underway?
We’re working on it. We’re having our regional
vice presidents visit the Young stations
now, so we’re actively involved in advising
Gray Interactive Media handles the Gray
station Websites. Do you partner with the likes of WorldNow or IB or Broadcast
Interactive Media for the sites as well?
supplies our video, and Clickability supplies our infrastructure and backbone.
But we do all the content. They're pretty self-contained sites.
There are some major political races
going on. In terms of technology, is there anything you folks will use to cover
the elections that maybe you didn't a few years ago?
don't think so, no. But I think it's going to be a huge political year.