Virginia stations signal intent to hop on joint master-control bandwagon

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Virginia public broadcasters WCVE and WVPT are the latest stations to come together to form a joint master control.

Starting as early as February, programming for WVPT-TV in Harrisonburg, Va., will be transmitted from a joint control at WCVE, a dual licensee about 120 miles to the southeast in Richmond.

The arrangement is a win-win: the service provides WCVE with a new source of revenue, and WVPT rings up savings by avoiding an expensive refresh of its outdated equipment. Execs at both stations said they’ll use the extra cash to produce more content.

“We are at end of life for most if not all of the equipment in our current master-control facility,” said David Mullins, WVPT president. The station was one of the first in the state to convert to digital, in 2001, said COO Tony Mancari.

The timing is also perfect. In October, WVPT announced a deal to sell the building it has used since 1968 and relocate to larger quarters. “Part of that plan was to not have to move our master control,” Mullins said.

Mark Spiller, WCVE’s digital and engineering chief, said WVPT will contribute to costs of the joint master equipment as well as pay a fee for the service. Sources at both stations could not share estimates for savings or fees. “We just haven’t gotten into the weeds yet on the numbers,” Mancari said.

WCVE began pondering handling multiple program streams about six years ago, Spiller said. The station specifically purchased automation gear “with the intention to expand at some point,” he said. “If this works well with WVPT, we may try to go further,” bringing in more clients.

Execs at the Harrisonburg station also considered signing on with two existing joint-master projects for pubcasters: Centralcast LLC in Syracuse, N.Y., running content for 13 pubcasting stations in New York and New Jersey, and the Digital Convergence Alliance in Florida, handling 11 stations as far away as Chicago.

“It made the best business sense for us to work with WCVE,” Mullins said. “They have the capacity, and the technology is in place, or will be, for connectivity.  We also felt that it makes good sense for WVPT to work with one of our public television partners in Virginia.” Although there’s a bit of signal overlap in the middle of the state at Charlottesville, Mullins said, the two stations have always had a friendly relationship.

Mullins does not anticipate any layoffs, as the station’s master control was already automated and didn’t need operators.

Officials at both stations said they are also exploring merging some back-office operations as well, although those talks are just beginning.

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