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Building a Better Billing Machine

Broadcasters are expecting a nice bounce from political and Olympics spending in 2012. But they are also facing some Olympian complexities when it comes to managing their sales efforts and operations, which traffic systems and billing vendors are working to solve.

One illustration of the intricacies likely to spring from tighter election-cycle inventories can be found in the way stations promote their programs and schedules. Eric Mathewson, founder and CEO at WideOrbit, says a station that over-promotes or under-promotes its programming by only 10% “is essentially throwing 1.5% of their gross inventory out the window because about 15% of gross inventory is promotions.”

During elections, this can be an even greater problem, Mathewson adds, because of tight inventories. “If you can get the same promotional bang using 12% of inventory for promotions rather than 15%, there is obviously an upside,” he says.

To help deal with that problem, WideOrbit had been beta testing the WO Promo product it is now rolling out widely to its customers. “WO Promo automates the placement process in an algorithmic way, so they can get much better use of available inventory,” Mathewson explains.

That is only one step, as vendors have also been pushing to offer a more complete range of solutions that go far beyond simply trafficking.

“What we are seeing from customers is less and less of a desire to buy independent pieces of the puzzle and more interest in buying all the pieces and getting support from just one vendor,” says Michael Atkin, founding partner and president of BroadView, which earlier this year launched OneSolution, an integrated traffic, sales and programming suite.

Offering a complete solution is key, Atkin adds, because of the complexities of constantly upgrading myriad solutions from different vendors. “By the time a broadcaster qualifies the upgrade from one vendor, another vendor has an upgrade,” he notes. “You get to the point where you can’t move forward and end up working with old technology,” which is a major problem for broadcasters trying to expand multiplatform delivery.

Harris, meanwhile, has been working on a number of its products, including a new interactive reporting interface that has been in beta with several clients and will be rolled out wider by the end of the year. And NetGain is a data analytic and business intelligence tool that Harris is planning to install at a broadcaster in the first part of 2012.

The moves are part of a plan to offer a wider array of tools to handle multiple platforms, notes Scott Criley, director of media and work flow at the broadcast communications division of Harris.

“The goal is to have a single place where orders can be entered across different distribution mediums— linear, streaming, VOD, mobile—that is combined with an execution system for those different distribution channels where appropriate, and tied together with a billing capability so they can provide one invoice to clients,” Criley notes.

In providing an integrated solution for its clients, Crist Myers, president and CEO of Myers Information Systems, stresses that the company focused on features that would improve the user interface so that tasks take less time.

“We have added dozens and dozens of new features,” Myers notes. “But it has been a process of adding and collapsing and adding and collapsing to insure the product is usable and intuitive. It is important that we are simplifying things for the user, because traffic and sales are being asked to do so much more than they were just a few years ago.”

That effort has helped produce a very high retention rate of 97% in the last 25 years, while attracting new clients, Myers adds.

At Pilat Media, two notable developments have been improvements to the vendor’s IBMS OmniCast back-office scheduling system for on-demand content, along with its dashboards.

“What we’ve done is given them a single point of view into their whole operations and the status of their work process,” notes John Larrabee, VP of the Americas at Pilat.

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