AT&T Connect Web Conferencing Case Study
Award-Winning TV Stations Collaborate on Stories that Matter (Cont'd)
It's really important for us to understand that it's not about the servers, the network or the software upgrade. It's about the newscast and being on the air for the local communities that we serve.”
- W. Craig Harper, Vice President/Technology, Belo Corp.
About Belo Corp.
Belo Corp. Facts
Ability to share information to support breaking news and conduct day-to-business for widely dispersed locations
Integrated voice, Web and video conferencing solution supports staff and team meetings
Enhanced internal communication, improved collaboration and the ability to support real-time needs
Media, including television stations, cable news channels and websites
Annual revenues of $590 million
Founded in 1842 when Texas was a sovereign nation, Belo Corp. is the oldest continuously operating company in the state. Today it is one of the nation's largest pure-play, publicly-traded television companies, owning and operating 20 television stations (nine in the top 25 markets) and their associated websites. Company stations include affiliations with ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX and the CW; they reach more than 14 percent of U.S. television households in 15 major markets, where they generally rank first or second. In the past decade, Belo television stations have won dozens of prestigious national journalism awards, including 12 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Batons, 10 George Foster Peabody Awards and 26 Edward R. Murrow Awards.
Belo’s holdings stretch from the East Coast to the Pacific Northwest. As the company has grown and its geographical coverage has expanded, the need for regular communication among stations has increased. Concurrently, the company has centralized many of its technical and administrative processes that support these locations. Belo was interested in finding an integrated solution that would make it easier to conduct meetings, share breaking news and better enable reporters across the country to work together. It also needed to be easy to administer and run.
Belo reporters and staff can communicate in real-time from an office computer, laptop or mobile device thanks to AT&T Connect®, an enterprise-class tool that integrates audio, web and video conferencing. The IP-based solution has enhanced collaboration among Belo’s geographically diverse locations, supporting staff meetings, story conferences and breaking news transmission.
A Legacy of Meaningful Journalism
From its beginnings as a Texas newspaper company through the explosive expansion into broadcasting, Belo has prospered because of its relationship with its audience. The company has developed close community ties, a strong reputation as a good corporate citizen and a commitment to meaningful journalism. Belo stations are the leading source of news and information for many of the viewers they serve. Its employees are guided by a shared set of values and operating principles, and the company takes seriously its responsibility to further public dialogue and improve life in its communities through philanthropic efforts.
I love being able to install things that I don’t have to think about again and that’s really the case with AT&T Connect: it’s there, it’s working and it’s helping us take care of business.”
- W. Craig Harper, Vice President/Technology, Belo Corp.
The stations continue to follow the philosophy of excellence set forth by Belo’s founders, and have been honored for journalistic excellence. Craig Harper, Belo Corp.’s Vice President/Technology, says the awards recognize Belo’s commitment to journalism that is meaningful to viewers. “Our stations cover things that really matter,” he said. Belo’s Houston station was the first to expose dangerous problems with some Firestone tires, and its Charlotte station uncovered dental fraud that victimized young children. “These are not the sensational kinds of journalism that a lot of people are used to today, but they are meaningful, touch-your-life journalism.”
Belo’s longstanding success comes from an ability to balance this commitment to journalism with the need to run an economically sound company. “Our ratings show that quality journalism can pay for itself and be a value to our shareholders.”
It’s All about the Newscast
In the late 90s Belo made the largest acquisition in company history. “Belo went from a seven-station company to a very large media company almost overnight,” Harper said. As head of technology, he was responsible for integrating the acquisitions into Belo’s network. His department, Belo Technology Operations, was one of the first broadcast organizations to combine IT and traditional broadcast technology – the entire breadth of the company’s networking, from installing servers and phone systems to repairing HD cameras and maintaining broadcast transmitters. Today the scope of responsibility extends to 20 television stations, two regional cable news channels and two local cable news channels. Belo Corp. also operates more than 25 websites, several interactive alliances and a broad range of Internet-based products.
The technology department supports journalists covering local communities and those traveling around the world reporting on wars, political unrest and natural disasters. “Our role is to provide them with tools be it helicopters, cameras, trucks, editing equipment, IT infrastructure and laptops, or whatever they need,” he said. “It’s really important for us to understand that it’s not about the servers, the network or the software upgrade,” Harper declared. “It’s about the newscast and being on the air for the local communities that we serve.”
One aspect of this support is ensuring that journalists and other staff can readily communicate with one another. Newsrooms have two important meetings each day to determine what stories the journalists will cover. “In Dallas, for example, they have bureaus all over North Texas; reporters out in the field working on a story can call in and talk to the management side,” Harper explained.
Belo also conducts regular IT meetings, staff briefings and human resource trainings. “We use conferencing extensively for day to day business and breaking news,” he said. During Hurricane Katrina, for example, Belo had a conference call running continuously for more than a week to enable reporters to share information from the field in real-time.
Although audio conferences are useful, there were often meetings at which staff wanted to share documents and video, so technology officials began researching integrated conferencing solutions. The technology department evaluated every process, system and service Belo had been using. “Communication is key for us,” Harper said. “We try very hard to have the best cell service, the best pagers and handheld devices. We evaluate the whole gamut of network technology and really work hard to understand all the tools that we can give our crews as they go out to a breaking news story.”
A Century-long Relationship
Belo introduced a conferencing solution, but soon found that it wasn’t easy to manage. The company called AT&T, with which it had a long-standing relationship — Col. A. H. Belo, for whom the company was named, had installed the first telephone line in Texas between his newspaper and his home in 1878. Belo’s AT&T account team demonstrated AT&T Connect, which integrates Web, video and voice conferencing onto a single platform, and company officials immediately envisioned a number of ways they could employ the service.
Now Belo’s president meets weekly with senior staff and holds regular conferences with direct reports in Seattle and San Antonio via AT&T Connect. “We’re using the service effectively on a daily basis,” Harper said.
Replacing old technology with AT&T Connect “has enhanced what we were already doing,” Harper said. “Now we are using a more effective technology, and we save money on it.”
Containing Costs, Satisfying Discerning Consumers
Belo found that AT&T Connect was easy to deploy to its many locations. “I was fearful of how it could go, because news people are sometimes technically challenged,” Harper said. “They’re creative but not always analytical thinkers, so any time we roll out a new product or feature there’s a lot of handholding. This went really well for us because AT&T had a great plan already in place. We modified it and were able to use it very effectively.”
Harper concedes there was initial trepidation about the video capability among some news staff. “Our employees have a very keen eye for quality and they notice if a video is jerky or low resolution,” Harper said. “The quality of AT&T Connect has been very good; several people have mentioned that to me.” Belo calls often include staff in more than 50 locations, some of whom are using cell phones to dial in. “Our people are very discerning viewers and so the audio and video quality of our calls was a determining factor for us.”
Belo works to find cost-effective solutions that give staff the tools they need. AT&T Connect “has been a great experience for us and an improvement over what we had,” Harper said. “I love being able to install things that I don’t have to think about again and that’s really the case with AT&T Connect: it’s there, it’s working and it’s helping us take care of business. We don’t have to think about it.”
As a result, technology staff can focus on their core responsibilities, which Harper characterizes as planning to be sure that reporters have all the equipment they need to cover daily news as well as any kind of breaking news. “Like the fire department, we plan for the worst – we hope it never happens, but if it does happen the systems are all in place and they work.” When tragedies occur, Belo takes pride in the fact that their news crews are prepared. “During Hurricane Katrina we had the only TV station in New Orleans on the air,” he said. “That was due to a lot of fortitude and the planning we had in place for the worst case scenario.
“That’s what I mean about install and forget it,” Harper said. “That’s really the key part of our planning for our journalists.” And that’s what AT&T Connect has been able to deliver for Belo.