Physical distancing has changed how local TV programs are produced and it helps keep stations on the air.
Engineers and production crews help local TV stations maintain distancing and a sunny on-air personality.
Management friends at a couple of local midwestern TV stations in different markets, with different group ownership and different network affiliations, were promised anonymity for the following comments. Their stations fall in the top and bottom thirds of Nielsen’s Top 100 DMAs and are identified here as Stations A and B. Their solutions to current operational challenges are much like local TV stations everywhere have always been -- similar but unique.
How many people work in your building now vs. before the pandemic?
Station A: People are starting to trickle back in. Sales has been entirely absent from the building for months. It did not hurt their productivity in any way; in fact, we’ve been doing quite well all things considered. We have not missed a step with sales or news gathering.
Station B: Approximately 40%. In addition to the reduced numbers we have employed a strategy of minimizing the number of people in the building at any given time by eliminating overlapping shifts.
What’s the newsroom headcount?
Station A: Producers largely work remotely. We might have 6 people in the newsroom at most. Today in fact I saw two people (producers) that I had not seen since March. We are single anchor, and socially separated in all our shows; no one sits together anywhere. We use dual boxes as transitions between widely separated locations in the studios.
Station B: Approximately 17 people spread over 3 shifts.
Guest policy? Masks?
Station A: We have not opened the front lobby; our receptionist works from home on clerical duties. We’ve just begun allowing one guest into the building at a time; masks are mandatory. Mostly this is strictly for guests on our lifestyle show, one per half-hour.
Station B: No guests. Masks to be worn in all common areas. If you are at your desk or in your office, you don’t have to wear a mask. As soon as you get up to move you are required to wear a mask.
Lysol Spray or Electronic?
Station A: We added an air freshener to the control room to minimize aerosol spray and the smell of disinfectant.
Station B also uses both.
Station A: We’ve somehow managed to keep our M-F Lifestyle show on the air, primarily by making use of Zoom quite extensively. We pre-record almost all our guest appearances, unless its someone who is a regular and we know they are technically savvy. We prepared a cheat sheet to assist them in appearing their best in Zoom calls.
Station B: Primarily Webex. Zoom is not approved by corporate. They had security concerns with Zoom, and Webex was already a tool we had access to.
How many bonded cellular units do you have and what is typically used at reporter’s homes?
Station A: Weather has the capability of doing a very nice show remotely by dialing in and using a TVU Networks device, green screen, and basic portable LED lights. Crews call in via TVU and live truck, edit and upload remotely. We do not remote TD/ Directing, CG, audio, or camera ops. We have had a director working from home editing packages and programming via VPN.
Station B: We have 7 LiveU units. The folks anchoring from home primarily use a LiveU. We occasionally use Skype or Facetime, but since LiveU added the guest feature to their product we have encouraged remote guests to use the LiveU LU Smart App. On some occasions we have used an iPad with the LiveU LU Smart App for remote reporting.
Is everyone using professional TV lighting at home?
Stations A and B: Yes.
Besides Webex and Zoom, what else are you using to bring in streaming feeds?
Station B: We occasionally use Skype or FaceTime, but encourage remote guests to use the LiveU LU Smart App.
Streaming sources issues?
Both stations report infrequent bandwidth issues. Most feeds at both stations have been solid.
Do shifts cross paths?
Station A: Production continues, to this day, to be divided up into the AM and PM shifts; we keep them separated, never crossing paths.
Station B: We minimize the number of people in the building by scheduling folks into morning and evening shifts with no overlap.
How are you covering vacations?
Station A: No one took a vacation until this week. Consequently, we are looking at a major issue trying to accommodate many, many weeks of vacation in 6 months time. I probably will pull in freelancers to help. I do not see the station embracing a totally new way of doing things. Folks are gradually returning.
Station B: We are maintaining our normal schedule for engineering vacations without part time help. We, as have many other Broadcast companies, have been working reduced hours as a cost savings due to economic factors caused by the pandemic. We are working 32-hour work weeks which make scheduling a challenge to keep everything covered. Especially with summer vacations. Thus far we have been able to keep up with everything while working reduced hours.
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