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KCBS Joins HD-News Club

L.A. station moves into high-tech digital facility on CBS Studio lot 3/23/2007 08:00:00 PM Eastern

Two CBS-owned stations in Los Angeles are in the final stages of a move to a new state-of-the-art digital broadcast center, joining the growing legion of broadcasters doing high-definition news. KCBS executives have relocated their offices to the CBS Studio Center lot in Studio City, around eight miles to the northwest of the current site on Sunset Boulevard. The news anchors and teams have already begun rehearsals, and everyone's shooting for an April 21 start date for high-definition news at KCBS and sister station KCAL.

The new site is a massive 140,000- square-foot structure, featuring the Jerry Dunphy Newsroom (named for the legendary Los Angeles anchor), and a pair of 5,000-square-foot sound stages for KCBS and KCAL, a CBS-owned independent station. The lot is rich in television history; KCBS executives say vintage programs Gunsmoke and Leave It to Beaver—and, more recently, CSI: New York and Big Brother—were shot there.

Planning for the move has been in the works since the KCBS/KCAL duopoly was formed almost five years ago. The hardest part, say its chief planners, is maintaining the stations' combined 11½- hour daily news output while worrying about getting phones hooked up and finding those missing files.

“It's a new environment, new systems, new technology, but there's no time to regroup,” says Patrick McClenahan, KCBS/KCAL's senior VP/station manager. “You get everyone trained, and you hit the ground running.”

Fortunately for CBS, McClenahan and KCBS/KCAL President/General Manager Don Corsini are old hands at moving station operations. McClenahan helped build the Prime Ticket (now Fox Sports Net West) facility years ago in Century City, Calif., and Corsini oversaw KCAL's move into the current KCBS headquarters four years ago.

But neither compares in scope and scale with the present undertaking. “[The new site's] size will blow you away,” says CBS Television Stations President/CEO Tom Kane. (CBS executives won't reveal what the facility cost.)

KCBS will become the third station in the Los Angeles market to offer hi-def news; KABC launched it in conjunction with the Super Bowl in 2006, and KTLA recently added some HD newscasts. More than three dozen stations offer HD news nationwide, including Fox O&Os in Cleveland and Philadelphia; ABC-owned stations in New York, San Francisco and Chicago; and NBC flagship WNBC New York. Among the national news programs, ABC's Good Morning America and NBC's Today air in hi-def, and NBC Nightly News With Brian Williams went HD this week (B&C, 3/19, p. 18).

While high-definition television is a logical enhancer to primetime programs and sports (KCAL introduced hi-def Lakers basketball last month), CBS executives say the audience is coming around to watching the local news in HD, too. “The demand is what I call eventual,” says Kane. “It's utility viewing, as opposed to event viewing. But if you watch a newscast in HD, you say, 'This is a better viewing experience.'”

CBS considers hi-def news a good fit for Los Angeles, with the market's high penetration of HD televisions. And offering the whole newscast in HD, including field reports and graphics, is a way to keep pace with KABC, which has been winning the Los Angeles news wars. “Eyewitness News [KABC] did it first,” Corsini says, “so from a competitive standpoint, moving to the hi-def world is the natural thing to do.”

All of CBS' 17 stations are at some stage of shifting to hi-def news. KYW Philadelphia is also moving into a new facility—a 120,000-square-foot, fully HD building in the heart of the city—and will kick off hi-def news to coincide with the Phillies' home opener April 2. “It's been an awful lot of long days and nights, but we're ready,” says President/General Manager Michael Colleran.

WCBS New York rolls out HD news next month, and stations in San Francisco and Miami, among others, are also slated to make the leap in the near future. Says Kane, “Over the next year or so, all of CBS' [O&Os] will do HD news.”

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michael.malone@reedbusiness.com

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