I'm not quite sure what is going on over at WMTW in Portland, Maine. Even though Hearst Television (Heart Communications) has spent millions upon millions upgrading the TV stations it owns so that the local news for each can be broadcast in High Definition (HD), somehow Hearst managed to skip over WMTW - "News 8" in Portland, Maine.
Let's face it - whoever has the most HD wins. Along time ago I predicted that whichever local TV station in our market (Portland/Lewiston/Auburn) did the local news in HD would win the ratings game (and therefore the advertising revenue). And I happened to be right. WCSH-6 broadcast its local news in first, WGME-13 was second, and WMTW has yet to do it. The ratings match up exactly to this dynamic.
Although WMTW has won many award for its news coverage in the last few years, including a regional Emmy award and the Edward R. Murrow award, it continues to be dead last in the ratings in its official demographic area (Portland/Lewiston/Auburn as cited by the National Association of Broadcasters).
And here is why.
First, keep in mind the the majority of US households now have at least one High Definition television. And if you own one, and have truly experienced REAL HD, there is simply no going back to crappy quality pictures. Why should we. The technology has been around for two decades. It would be comparable to the 1950's and 1960's when Color TV took over Black and White. Can you imagine if out of 3 local TV stations, two were in color and one was in B&W? Which would you watch on your new color TV?
After the conversion from Analog TV to Digital TV, local TV stations were still broadcasting their locally produced news in standard definition (SD). It takes lots of money (for equipment in the studio and for field reporting) and time to prepare for broadcasting local news in HD. But parent company Hearst put up the funds for what seems like every one of its TV station, except WMTW.
As recently as about 3 weeks ago, WMTW's HD capabilities for the local news was limited to a banner/scroll at the bottom of the screen which mostly had weather info during the broadcast, but the actual on-camera folks, and field reporting, was done in SD - and it looked like hell.
About 3 weeks ago, WMTW "converted" to what uninformed viewers might think is HD, but in fact is not. WMTW simply changed the aspect ratio from 4:3 (SD) to 16:9 (typically HD but more accurately is simply considered wide screen. You don't have to be in HD to broadcast in wide screen) so that the picture would fill the screen and not look stretched or squished.
However, the quality of the broadcast didn't change. The local news is in wide screen but IS NOT IN HD. Nor is the field reporting. Just compare the onscreen graphics to the info bar at the bottom. Or compare the picture to one of the other TV station's local news.
I can only imagine that WMTW received many complaints from viewers regarding its lack of local news in HD. So their solution was to try to fool the viewing audience into assuming the broadcast was now in HD simply because the picture was now in wide screen format. Well, guess what - IT'S NOT!!!! There is NOTHING HD about WMTW's news broadcast. It's just a wider originating picture. Shame on you WMTW.
I am perplexed as to why WMTW is one of the few, if not the only, Hearst-owned TV stations around the country which has not been converted to full HD for the local news. I've tried to find out, but simply can not. And worse now is that because of ratings, WMTW cancelled it's weekday noon newscast due to lack of ratings and was replaced by "The Steve Harvey Show". Really!? Are you kidding me?? That show will get cancelled within a few months if not weeks. Then, WMTW will be showing infomercials instead of a noon newscast. It's just sad. And all because the ratings were lost to two other stations who invested in HD technology for the local news cast. WMTW is also the only local TV station to skip a 5 PM newscast - because nobody is watching in non-HD. Instead they have the Dr. Phil show at 5 pm which is rebroadcast from an HD uplink. They can do that, but they can't broadcast the local news in HD. It's different technology.
The bottom line is that WMTW is dragging in the ratings even though the station wins prestigious awards. But who would want to watch WMTW news (that looks awful on an HDTV) when the viewer can relax his/her eyes and watch WCSH-6 or WGME-13 local news in GLORIOUS, full HD. No matter how insipid the news readers are (I simply can not call the people who anchor or report for WCSH or WGME "journalists"), the weather maps on the two HD stations are cool (especially WCSH) and much of the field reporting, which is sometimes local and sometimes rebroadcast from other stations around the country, is crystal clear in HD.
WMTW is losing the ratings game. By all measurable criteria, they should be winning. But the lack of HD from the live studio news broadcast AND from the field reporting is dragging them down even further.
I tried to reach WMTW for comment about why they switched to 16:9 wide screen but not to HD, and to find out why Hearst's multi-million dollar investments in most stations it owns had not reached WMTW. I could not get a response.
In defense of WMTW, the station does not refer to its local news as HD and does not use "HD" in any tag lines. However, switching to a wide screen format as a way to placate the public is one more nail in the coffin, and a bit (or a lot) disingenuous.
WMTW once had one of the biggest viewerships in the country (by share) because its tower was located on top of Mount Washington, the highest place in New England. They used to reach six or seven states plus the Montreal market. The fall from grace began when digital TV was mandated and WMTW had to sell it's spot "on the mountain" due to FCC regulations. They simply could not or would not keep up with current technology.
I'm sure that the local management at WMTW wishes like crazy that their local news was in HD. I can't imagine it would be otherwise. So the blame has to be put on the Hearst Corporation. I wouldn't be surprised if Hearst plans to sell the station and that is why WMTW's newsroom has not been converted to HD.
If anyone out there knows what's going on, I'd truly love a reply to this post so that my readers will understand it as well.