KUSA Chief Feels At Home With Innovation

In Denver, Ogden pushes Gannett's tech envelope

Once, Roger Ogden moved to Louisville, Ky. But he stayed just one year before returning home. He lived in Europe for two years, but he took the assignment knowing it would only be a short stint.

Home for Ogden is Denver—more specifically, Denver television.

But just because he's an old-time guy with strong roots, don't mistake him for some provincial technophobe. He's one of the market's most innovative minds and a leader for Gannett when it comes to testing new ideas and pushing the boundaries.

"Roger does a great job for us," says Gannett Broadcasting President Craig Dubow.

Ogden is senior vice president of broadcasting for Gannett and president of KUSA, the NBC affiliate in the market where he was born and grew up. He started out in radio; in more recent years, he helped Gannett make the Internet a profitable business and introduced an all-high-definition newscast before any station in the nation.

"I think my history here counts for a little bit," Ogden says. However, "you can't just think about the good ol' days. It's more important to be looking forward."

A relatively affluent and educated city like Denver is a good place to try new technological ideas, he says. It's especially easy for him, he says, because his staff reflects the city's demographic and buys into these projects.

Ogden became a disciple of the Internet when he went to work for NBC in Europe. When he returned to Denver and joined KUSA, he poured resources into the content side and found business partners, transforming the station's Web site into the most highly viewed in the state. Gannett rolled out the Denver approach in its other large markets, and now every one of them is profitable.

"It's a prudent approach to test in one market first, not just because of the economics," says Bear Stearns analyst Kevin Gruneich. "It is easier to sell to the other stations if you have a champion for a project."

Indeed, Dubow says that, while Gannett is "careful and cautious," it also likes to brand its stations as leaders in "the technological arena if we can prove a business model works." Ogden knows that the culture of Gannett is to push frontiers: "When you're not certain on the timing of a new technology, you test it, learn from it, and roll it out."

Last August, he spoke to other general managers about the convergence of three factors he thought made the time ripe for local HDTV: More programming, especially sports, was finally being produced for high-def; the cost of new sets was coming down; and cable operators were grasping the importance of HD in differentiating themselves from satellite competitors.

So Ogden made his move. He formed partnerships with Sony, the local Comcast operator, and Soundtrack, a regional chain selling TVs—and then pitched Gannett on this multimillion-dollar investment. This spring, KUSA became the first station to broadcast all its news in high-definition (a few around the nation were part-time in HD).

Although there are only about 80,000 HDTV sets in the Denver market's 1.4 million homes, Ogden went even further. He found a helicopter company, Heli-net, to work with him in developing the technology to shoot HD news footage from the air [B&C, 4/12, p. 26]. "The studio shows were the original driver for this," he says, "but the most compelling pictures we put on every day come from the helicopter."

Says Dubow, "There are going to be speed bumps along the way, but, under Roger's leadership, this is a fine first step." Gannett has had strong consumer response, he adds, and is looking into branding and advertising opportunities.

Ogden is now tinkering with other ideas. "We need to generate revenue in ways other than 30-second spots," he says. He's exploring a program that would be entertainment-oriented but with retail possibilities. "There has been very little work in that area," he says, "but it's something that we have to think about."

Obviously, that mile-high air works for him.