Ky. Station Brings Graduations to the Front Lines

WKAG, TitanTV Stream High-School Ceremonies for Soldiers Overseas

Viewers in southwestern Kentucky -- and Iraq, for that matter -- might grow a little tired of hearing “Pomp and Circumstance” in the next few weeks.

That’s because tiny WKAG, licensed to similarly small Hopkinsville, Ky., will stream some 16 high-school graduations on, primarily to give soldiers serving overseas a chance to watch loved ones march onstage to receive their diplomas.

“We’ve had graduations on the air, but this is the first time we’re streaming them,” WKAG owner and general manager Eddie Owen said. “The community seems to appreciate that we’re doing this.”

The military is ubiquitous in WKAG’s immediate market, which straddles the Tennessee/Kentucky border. While it’s officially part of No. 30 DMA Nashville, WKAG, an independent station, also reaches the Clarksville and Fort Campbell submarkets.

Owen estimated that there are 225,000 viewers in the market, and some 27,000 are based in Fort Campbell, home of the 101st Airborne. He said the region has two of the nation’s few high schools situated on military bases in Fort Campbell (620 students) and Fort Knox (531 students). Fort Campbell principal Dave Witte estimated that 50% of his senior class has parents deployed overseas.

Another upcoming feature will turn the idea around and allow soldiers several time zones away to upload video messages to family and friends, and vice versa. Owen said the user-generated video feature should be up and running by mid-June.

WKAG will stream around nine Kentucky graduations in the area, and seven more from Tennessee. Austin Peay State University, based in Clarksville, streams graduations from Tennessee, as well. The station sends as few as one photographer and as many as four to the events, depending on the school size, and the finished product runs about one hour.

While the target audience is the military stationed far away, Owen said it’s not limited to soldiers. “We’re telling viewers, ‘Tell your relatives about this,’” he added. “It’s for Uncle George in Florida, as well as those in Iraq.”

The streaming idea sprung from a conversation between Fort Campbell High School officials and Owen about how WKAG was planning to cover the 2008 graduations. Owen signed up TitanTV, a Web-syndication outfit that partners with stations to increase their video offerings online, earlier in the year. Finding Titan’s video-uploading software exceedingly simple to use, he volunteered to stream the school’s graduation.

“That triggered our thoughts,” he added. “We started thinking that we could do it for all of the schools [in the area].”

WKAG’s cap-and-gown offerings jibe with TitanTV’s model of mixing its own programming on the Web with a station’s local content. “As stations, we have to look at our value above and beyond our own air,” TitanTV president and chief operating officer Mark Effron said. “We have to think about doing things differently and leveraging the goodwill in the market, and this is a good example of that.”

The graduations, which will stream within 24 and 48 hours of their occurrence, fit with the do-it-yourself flavor of the WKAG Web site, which mixes in TitanTV programs, such as the environmentally themed Titan Greens, with clips of high-school sports and hyper-local news from the station’s submarkets. (WKAG airs three hours of news per night, much of which Owen anchors.)

Owen admitted that he has not yet made much of an effort to monetize WKAG’s Web content.

WKAG has for years featured high-school graduations on TV during slow time periods, such as weekend afternoons. Owen said sponsors have turned out for the on-air ceremonies, although the station has not really pushed to sell the Web versions thus far. “We’ve spoken to a few sponsors,” he added, “but it’s not something we’re doing for the money.”

Owen won’t share the cost of the investment but said it’s minimal. “We couldn’t all go to Starbucks hardly on what we’re spending on this,” he added. “It’s not much at all.”

The true return on investment is the goodwill of the community. “It’s great for the people who are deployed to be able to witness this landmark moment in their children’s lives,” Fort Campbell public-information officer Kelly Tyler said. “It has a real impact on them.”