No Thank You,Mr. Chairman

Rather than sell, extreme multicasters are using every speck of spectrum
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On paper, Capitol Broadcasting’s station holdings in Charlotte, N.C., may not look substantial: WJZY is a CW affiliate, and WMYT airs MyNetworkTV programming in DMA No. 25. The duopoly accounts for less than 10% of the market’s revenue, according to BIA/Kelsey. But thanks to one of the most aggressive multicasting strategies on the planet, Capitol’s footprint on the Charlotte programming dial is much greater. Indeed, the email signature for Shawn Harris, vice president and general manager of WJZY-WMYT, takes up a few inches when Antenna TV, The Country Network, SonLife Broadcasting, Soul of the South and two separate mobile DTV channels appear below his name.

As has become an annual occurrence, broadcasters heard a plea from FCC chairman Julius Genachowski to consider selling their spectrum at the NAB show in Las Vegas earlier this month. Harris says the decision to sell or not is above his pay grade, but he’s clearly intent on using every iota of his allotted spectrum to increase, and eventually monetize, Capitol’s content. “We’re not letting any of our bandwidth go to waste,” he said.

Call them extreme multicasters. Several stations, and groups, around the country are doing like Capitol and maximizing their broadcast spectrum. Morris Network, for one, broadcasts 15 network signals out of six stations. Genachowski urged skeptical broadcasters to at least pick up the phone and call the FCC to inquire about selling spectrum. Dean Hinson, president of Morris Network, says no thanks.

“Our business is to provide content to the local marketplace,” Hinson said. “We need every speck that we can get our hands on.”

Convention-al Wisdom

On April 16, Genachowski delivered a blunt 30-minute presentation to a full room of broadcasters, with the FCC’s spectrum incentive auction Topic A. “It’s an unprecedented opportunity [for broadcasters] to improve their financial position,” said Genachowski. “Don’t be afraid to be interested. Others already are.”

Genachowski said the opportunity is ripe for stations that are not getting retrans cash and not airing local news. But those doing both seem considerably less interested. Hinson says Morris Network invested millions of dollars per station to upgrade to digital and pave the way for a broad palette of multicast channels. WTVQ Lexington (Ky.), for one (see Market Eye), airs ABC and MyNetworkTV in HD. With an assist from its Harris Selenio encoder system, WTVQ picked up Antenna TV in December, and airs it on its .3 channel.

Such outsize output is fairly typical within the Morris group. “We’ve built out the revenue stream for the long term,” said Hinson. “Hopefully it’s justifiable down the road. It’s a gamble, but we think it’s a gamble worth taking.”

Charlotte’s Web of Digi-Nets

The Harris Selenio was also key to WJZYWMYT making the most efficient use of its broadcast capability. Around 18 months ago, Shawn Harris says he was fielding calls from reps of various digi-nets daily when he discussed capacity issues with his director of engineering, Robert Castillo. “Robert told me, ‘Here’s where we are now, and here’s where we could be,’” said Harris. “I was intrigued by where we could be.”

They discussed pushing as many as a halfdozen standard-def channels, but a key voice in the Capitol hierarchy, president/CEO James Goodmon, weighed in with his wishes. Capitol is a major proponent of mobile DTV—flagship WRAL Raleigh field-tested it back in 2008 and started airing its signal on Raleigh city buses a year later—and Goodmon wanted two mobile DTV channels in the mix, too.

Last summer, a pair of engineers representing Harris visited WJZY-WMYT and worked with Castillo to get the ambitious plan off the ground. “Eventually, after a couple tries, we got it going,” he said. (Castillo adds that the Selenio encoder cost around $120,000.)

The mobile DTV offerings simulcast the local CW and the Country Network. Playback devices sell for $108 at the local Best Buy, though Harris knows it will be some time before mobile DTV usage hits critical mass. He joked that there are probably a dozen devices in the market, most of which are in the hands of TV station engineers. “We don’t kid ourselves,” Harris said. “They’re not mainstream in the marketplace yet.”

A few weeks ago, WJZY’s 10 p.m. news, produced by Raycom’s WBTV, moved to WMYT. The pair’s digi-nets include Country Network, Antenna TV and Jimmy Swaggart’s SonLife. Harris and Castillo are working to gear up the subchannels for local ad insertions (which should be in place by the end of June) and will target direct response advertisers as well as car dealers for exclusive sponsorship opportunities.

WMYT is poised to debut the regional African-American network Soul of the South May 28. Should that channel fail to be ready, WMYT has a Plan B: This TV was recently freed up when WBTV dropped it for Bounce TV.

“We’ll keep that in our back pocket,” said Harris. “We don’t want that bandwidth to not go to good use.”

E-mail comments to mmalone@nbmedia.com and follow him on Twitter: @BCMikeMalone

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