Don’t tell Hank Hundemer, Tribune Media’s senior VP for engineering, that television is low-tech and old-fashioned.
Employing a “stop begging, start building” approach, Hundemer and his team have reduced Tribune’s dependence on equipment suppliers and made it easier for its newsrooms to process video and share stories with other stations, all while saving a few bucks.
At Tribune, they call the gadgets Hundemer assembles “Hankware.”
“If there’s anything out there that somebody has, Hank will build it, faster, better, cheaper,” Bart Feder, Tribune’s senior VP of news, said. “And he’s a miracle worker. We had a little post-mortem on our election coverage yesterday on our news director call and all of the Hankware that he’s devised worked flawlessly and our folks have remarkable confidence.”
Hundemer started building things shortly after joining Tribune from Local TV LLC, which it acquired in 2013.
“One of the first things that I did when I came on board is looked at what we were paying for products that run our broadcast operations,” Hundemer said. “And one of the things that really attracted me to Tribune was their acceptance to take a chance to build some of those products.”
He built a high-definition video server in 2008. Tribune stations now employ about 1,500 of those boxes and use them to play all the video that runs on all of its channels.
Next up were a video management system for newsrooms and master control equipment to run stations.
More recently, he’s rolling out a character generator that runs in the same environment as the Adobe Photoshop and Adobe After Effects programs already familiar to station graphic artists.
“Effectively, what we have done is we’ve built a CG [character generator] for the cost of a desktop computer and a video card,” he said.
Hundemer figures the equipment his group designs and builds costs about one-third of what off-the-shelf products cost.
“We have next to no operating expenses, other than the salaries of the developers,” he said. “We have very few maintenance contracts and we’re also smart enough to look at the buy-versus-build calculation for each new product we’ve stepped into.”
The performance of the Hankware is also superior to its store-bought competition, according to Hundemer.
“Everything’s on the same platform, every station is on the platform, all the video is homogenized, all of the graphics are homogenized, so that allows you in a very trivial manner to grab something from one market and drag it to the other.”
The equipment is designed to run on Tribune’s network, making it more efficient.
“The DNA of the network design is frictionless sharing,” Hundemer said.
There is still some equipment that Hundemer will buy rather than build for Tribune.
“I don’t want to build everything. I want to build what makes sense,” he said.