WVLT’s live streaming news coverage of two men trapped in a collapsed trench and a six-year-old boy lost in the woods earns an award from its owner, Gray Television.
CBS affiliate WVLT Knoxville, Tenn.’s live streaming coverage of two back-to-back breaking news stories earned the station February’s OTT MVP Award from its owner, Gray Television.
The two stories happened on consecutive days in January and were highly dramatic: two men trapped in a collapsed trench and a 6-year-old boy lost in the woods.
WVLT’s live streaming coverage of the two men in a trench went five consecutive hours.
How was WVLT able to provide such extensive live streaming coverage for that long?
Matt Kummer, WVLT’s news director, says the station’s digital desk is equipped with a mini switcher.
“Every Gray station has one,” Kummer says. “What it essentially allows us to do is a broadcast on our streaming platforms, our website, our apps, social, YouTube, Roku channels and so on.”
Kummer says the station sent a crew out immediately to the scene of the collapsed trench, got an anchor in front of the camera at the digital desk “and started covering the story and stayed with it the entire time.”
Amanda Hara, WVLT’s executive producer of digital content and evening anchor, and a 10-year veteran at the station, says she was on the digital desk for both stories.
“We have a miniature studio set up in the newsroom and we have our own board essentially, and we are punching up our own video,” Hara says. “We are punching to our crews that are live in the field. We have the ability to create our own supers and crawls. You are your own director.”
David Sikes, WVLT’s news operations manager, and a 23-year veteran at the station, says the live streaming included a drone shot.
“You could actually see into the trench on what the rescuers were doing,” Sikes says.
Hara sees WVLT’s streaming capabilities as a revolutionary tool in the station’s news coverage.
“We are almost pilgrims,” Hara says. “How can we develop it?”
“Streaming is immediate,” Sikes says. “It is in people’s hands everywhere they go and that is why that is so important to get it out immediately to them and that is why it is such a valuable tool to your broadcast.”
Going live for five continuous hours takes a lot of effort whether you’re streaming or broadcasting. The only difference is how the audience is engaging it.
So how do you let people know that you’re streaming live breaking news?
Push alerts is one way. “We push people in real time over to our app or our streaming channels so they can follow along,” Kummer says.
And how many are viewing the stream?
WVLT’s Facebook Live coverage of the trench collapse reached 118,000 people and the livestream on the station’s website was No. 1 one across the Gray stations that day.
The Facebook Live stream of the search for the missing 6-year-old boy reached close to 500,000 people, outperforming its competitors by 130%, according to WVLT.
“No one else in the market can do this,” Kummer says, saying that other stations would have to use their studio and control room. “We don’t,” Kummer says. “We do it in the newsroom,”
So, what’s the advantage of streaming live for hours at a time?
Hara says research shows you can cross-pollinate between platforms.
“Research indicates that a strong presence on streaming platforms will directly translate into more exposure for your on-air news programming,” Hara says.
“We have seen a pretty monumental shift here on big weather days or big breaking news days,” Hara says. “We are winning because of our live coverage on social media and streaming. We see people turning to us on those days, which is proof positive that the strategy is working and doing what we want it to do.”
The digital space is where local media is going, Kummer says.
“It’s critical for us as a news operation to cement in the minds of people that we are going to be covering breaking news on all of our platforms” Kummer says. “We see this translate back to more page views, more video click throughs and increased ratings on the TV side as well.”
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