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Affiliates Spar With Parents on Distant Hubs

'Central-casting' model causes concern

While some radio stations long ago became automated broadcasts contolled by their corporate parents, TV stations have traditionally been operated locally.

Recently, though, an increasing number of television stations have moved to central-casting — the practice of controlling operations for multiple stations out of a single hub, sometimes hundreds of miles away from local affiliates. Sinclair Broadcast Group, Gannett Co. and some PBS stations have moved to this model.

Broadcasters like central-casting because it gives companies “the ability to leverage both equipment and personnel across multiple properties,” says Rob Dunlop, exec veep of Fisher Communications, which owns 20 TV stations on the West Coast and was recently acquired by Sinclair.

Dunlop says central-casting was especially helpful to Fisher Communications during the transition to HD and digital by allowing the company avoid multiple capital costs. With local terrestrial stations competing for ad revenue with satellite and streaming services, central-casting gives stations a “significant advantage,” he says.

But those job cuts sting at local stations, and some local station managers are uncomfortable with putting control of their air in the hands of someone far away. Breaking into broadcasts for news and weather updates — like the urgent updates that alerted Oklahomans of tornadoes in May — can be tricky. Local stations might have to wait for the remote master control to give the broadcast reins back to the affiliate, and that can cost precious time.

Fisher Communications gives control to each station during their live news shows, says Dunlop, but that doesn’t address local emergencies.

Despite the back and forth, it seems central-casting is here to stay. Dunlop says that “a lot of folks are doing this, and we will continue to see more and more as technology continues” to make central-casting more efficient.

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