Why Are Local Stations Pushing So Hard for HD?
If you are among the lucky 20 percent of Tampa Bay area residents wth a high definition TV set, then you've been checking out WFTS-Ch. 28's new HD newscasts, and probably thinking the same thing as me.
Is this something they really should be doing?
True enough, HD adds sparkle even to the traditional newscast. When I watched a story on a house fire, the details of the charred home jumped out, even though WFTS' field reports aren't yet in HD (the process also makes traditional broadcasts look sharper). See my Floridian column today on the issue here. See WFTS' press release on being first in the market with local HD newscasts here.
But, much as some anchors insist the process won't affect their impact on viewers, I had to wonder after watching WFTS in HD. Differences in the anchor's skin tone are more noticeable, and I swear I could see the difference between female anchor Wendy Ryan's made up face and her non-made-up neck and chest (it wasn't this extreme, but I was reminded of that scene in the first Batman movie where the bad guy contaminated the city's beauty products and TV anchors had to go onscreen showing zits and red eyes).
The technology for implementing this process also costs millions. And at a time when local TV stations already are getting by with understaffed reporting and producer ranks, should companies be spending so much scratch on making their anchors look less attractive?
The few local station executives who would return my calls on the subject -- folks at WFLA-Ch. 8, WTVT-Ch. 13 and WTSP-Ch. 10 wouldn't even call me back -- would likely say that the move to digital broadcasts is already underway, and fully-implemented HD is an impressive scene, with sharp weather graphics, detailed visuals in filed reports and more realistic-looking on air talent.
I think those argument have some merit - mostly because I spent a couple of weeks watching Los Angeles' high definition local news reports on a 40-inch TV screen while covering the TV critics press tour last month. The shows looked slick and impressive, making even mundane stories look more visually engrossing (rumors are, WTVT's new studio set will be more HD-friendly; see it at right).
In the end, I'm going to disagree with my pal (and fellow New Edition fan) Matt Felling at CBS' Public Eye blog; I think the HD transition is probably a lot like the transition to color TV in the '60s - expensive, inevitable and ultimately a higher quality broadcast, albiet delivered at a steep price.