WBFF Launches Baltimore’s First HD Newscast

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After a year long process of planning and rebuilding their operations, which included installing a new master control and building a new set, WBFF, or Fox 45, launched its HD newscast on June 2 and is now producing about five-and-a-half hours of local news in HD each weekday, according to general manager Bill Fanshawe.

“We’re excited to have the ability to be first into the market with an HD newscast,” Fanshawe said. “It is our understanding that the other stations are about six months away from completing the transition to high-definition and we see it an important competitive advantage.”

Scott Livingston, WBFF news director, said the transition has gone extremely well but has required an enormous amount of work for the installation of new equipment and extensive staff training.

“At the end of March we pulled an all-nighter,” to prepare for the transition, Livingston said. “When we finished our newscast at about 11:30 [p.m.] Friday, we worked until 2 [p.m.] on Saturday to clear out our studio and to build a makeshift studio, using piece of the old studio, in another studio.”

As it continued to produce its standard newscast from the temporary studio, WBFF had the Devlin Design Group to build a new HD set with 35 monitors, a revolving anchors desk, a 143-inch rear projection screen and an HD SkyWatch Weather Center.

Other vendors for the project included Sundance Digital, which provided equipment for the master control, and Snell &Wilcox, which provided a Kahuna SD/HD multiformat production switcher.

Once the master control was completed in late April, the station began an intensive schedule of training and rehearsals. “We had three weeks of intense rehearsals,” he said. “We rehearsed every show before and after the regular airing.”

The staff put in three or four hours of rehearsal time each day in addition to producing their usual five-and-a-half hours of regular newscasts.

That training was particularly important given the complexity of dealing with different formats and the need to continue to produce newscasts in both the standard def four by three and the HD 16x9 aspect ratio.

“You have to always be aware that there will be elements in the 16x9 shot that are not seen in the four by three,” Livingston said.

The extra work is however already paying off in higher ratings and a strengthened competitive position.

“If anyone doesn’t think HD is a competitive advantage, they are wrong,” Livingston said. “We have already seen a ratings increase in the first week. You will be getting sampling from viewers if you are the only one broadcasting in HD. We will have about a six month period where we will be the only game in town that is producing local news in HD,” to attract new viewers.

Like most stations, WBFF is not yet doing HD from the field. But Fanshawe noted that it is planning to buy four HD field cameras and should begin using them within “the next three months.” They are still deciding on which brand to buy and haven’t made a decision on whether the cameras will supply HD feeds or will produce standard-def material in the 16x9 format.

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