When Time Warner Cable subscribers tune into News 8 Austin on Monday, it's going to look different. But if Steve Paulus has his way, the look is about the only thing that's going to change ... for now.
"You're still going to see weather every 10 minutes, and you're going to see the local sports and the local news coverage that you get currently from News 8," said Paulus, the regional vice president of local news for Time Warner Cable. "Weather on the 8's will still be there. It's a new name, a new look, but the same quality news coverage."
Paulus has overseen a rebranding of the station to Your News Now (YNN) to create a common moniker for the company's local news outlets in New York, North Carolina and Texas. The goal is to make it easier to share stories and otherwise work more efficiently. The change also makes proposed expansion of Time Warner's news operations to other Texas cities an easier sell for Paulus.
Much of the look and feel of News 8 — as well as the technology used to create and broadcast its content — has remained unchanged since the 24-hour news station first signed on in September 1999. The seamless transition the station expects Monday comes after a year of planning and building reconstruction, as well as a complete shift in the technology the station uses to produce its broadcasts.
Staffers have been training on the new system, designed by Dalet Digital Media, for close to a month and a half (the French company's news production software is used by NBC News, CNN, Al Jazeera and networks in Asia and Australia, News 8 news director Michael Pearson said). In preparation for the transition, the station has been producing newscasts concurrently on the old and new systems, with the as-yet-unaired "new" version sporting spiffy YNN graphics.
With the new common YNN branding, when a reporter from a New York YNN affiliate attending the Consumer Electronics Show signs off by saying "this is so-and-so for YNN," no further customizing will need to be done for use at the local level. And the companywide shift to Dalet will provide other benefits.
"We're going to have a completely uniform system so our stations in North Carolina, Texas and New York will all be on the same platform," Paulus said. "When we want to share content, we're not going to have to be feeding video on a satellite feed or fiber. It's going to be like drag and drop."
The technological improvements will also allow the station to get news on the air faster. Minutes after content starts being fed into the station's servers, it will be available for use.
"Every Monday we air the (University of Texas football coach) Mack Brown news conference," Pearson said. "As soon as that news conference starts, a producer can start pulling content from that news conference. In the past, when we dumped out of a live event, we were stuck with having to jump into a news wheel (the industry term for a programming block) with no fresh content from that live event. Now we'll be able to produce content during that actual event and it's there, ready to go at the top of the next newscast."
"As its recording, three seconds later somebody can jump on and start editing it," said Kevin Kelly, the station's director of technical operations.
Finally, the upgrade allows for expanded archiving. "If (sports director Ricky Doyle) wants to go back to a UT story about a member of the football team being arrested or something, he will be able to go into the system, get all of the metadata, associated media, wire stories, any raw video we shot, the packages, voiceovers ... all of that stuff will be there at his fingertips," Pearson said.
"This is as new as it gets," Paulus said. "We're spending millions of dollars on it. It's not an inexpensive project, but it buys us back so much more efficiency, and it's long overdue for the channel."
Paulus talked briefly about some personnel changes late last year, including the departure of former news director Kevin Benz and sports reporter Lesley McCaslin (Benz said he left by mutual agreement and McCaslin said it was her decision to walk out when she could not come to terms with management on a new contract). "Personnel changes are made for a number of reasons," Paulus said. "It was something that I felt had to be done. It's not like anybody was resisting the upgrades or anything. I think it was really just a matter of management decisions that had to be made. We're adding some new heads; we're repurposing some bodies. There will be more people working in that building come next year than have been. We're creative in our budgeting and it's all good."
The transition has created positions, Paulus said, including slots for media managers and media editors that did not exist before.
The investment was made with an eye toward future expansion.
"This buildout ... is all with the idea that (Austin) could become a hub for Texas," Pearson said.
"Our hopes for Texas, specifically, are that we will at some point in the future have an opportunity to do something in San Antonio, hopefully Dallas and Corpus Christi and the Rio Grande Valley," Paulus said. "I've got proposals out to the company for channels all over Texas. Unfortunately, as you know, news channels are not inexpensive to build and run. So, clearly it's something that — the company's got to take care of their priorities — their cable service issues — first, and then they can look at local programming."
In the meantime, Austin's YNN affiliate is taking another cue from its sister stations.
"Thursday night at 6 o'clock we're going to launch a new weekly political show called ‘Capital Tonight,' " Pearson said. "We're starting out at 30 minutes once a week, but in the other markets it's grown to an hour every night, Monday through Friday."
The live show will provide viewers a close look at politics through the eyes of YNN reporters, analysts, lawmakers and other newsmakers. Paul Brown is slated to anchor, and political reporter Karina Kling will file reports on the Texas Legislature. Additional reports from the city, county and nation's capitols will be featured. Harvey Kronberg, founder and publisher of the Quorum Report (and News 8 partner) is set to be a regular, as are Democratic strategist Harold Cook and Republican strategist Ted Delisi. Attorney General Greg Abbott will be the program's inaugural guest, discussing efforts to repeal President Barack Obama's health care laws.
But that's Thursday, and with the switch being flipped Monday, Thursday seems a long way off. Still, neither Pearson nor Paulus expects any trouble during the transition. Paulus said the name change caused few problems for the YNN affiliates that have already been through it.
I asked staffers if they'd been practicing saying "YNN" and "Your News Now."
"Answering phones is going to be the hardest part," Kelly said.
"That's why I just answer it ‘newsroom,' " Pearson laughed.