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CNN changes spots to digital

In its continuing effort to reduce cost and streamline operations, CNN has implemented ADTrax, a new in-house ad-trafficking and distribution system.

The system, developed by CNN VP Andy Drooker over the course of more than two years, is eliminates the costs of overnight delivery and duplication of tape. It also enables CNN's domestic and international sales and on-air operations departments to send and track spots as digital files, showing when they were sent and to whom. And it records exactly when and where spots air.

Going forward, any commercial aired on any of CNN's networks—CNN, CNNi, CNNfn, CNN/SI and Headline News—will flow through ADTrax.

It was the "significant" costs (nearly $500,000 per year) involved in handling, standards-conversion and make-goods for errant commercials aired on CNN's overseas channels that first drew Drooker's attention.

"My main role here is to find products and technologies that can ease the work flow and cut costs," he said. "We were losing money with the existing system. It was time for a change."

To create ADTrax, Drooker cobbled together existing software and hardware with the Internet and satellite-service providers.

A key component was ClipMail Pro from Telstream, of Nevada City, Calif. It uses a fax-like terminal and the Internet to transmit MPEG video files in a store-and-forward model. With the system, users may send and retrieve video files just like e-mail.

The first ClipMail Pro terminals were deployed over a year ago in CNN's Atlanta headquarters and Hong Kong bureau. The results were better than expected, Drooker said.

"From three to four days to get the spot here via a delivery service, it took less than four hours," he noted. "And that's getting the spot in the system and on the air."

CNN later installed Telestream terminals in Argentina, Brazil and London. Paris will be added in November.

Drooker next turned to asset-management software from Media360. It allows the ad department to easily store and manage the digitized spots. And, finally, he arranged to move all of CNN domestic spot delivery via satellite.

"What we're looking at is the elimination of physical media coming into CNN, not sometime in the future, but today," Drooker said, adding that most ad agencies have embraced the system because it helps them track ads better and save money as well. The agencies used to spend about $125 per spot to make and send a digital videotape to CNN, he explained. With ADTrax, the cost drops to about $25.

Drooker turned to Net Screen Technologies, Sunnyvale, Calif., for security. It acts as a firewall between the Telestream terminal and the Internet. Only authorized employees can access the files.

Drooker said CNN has maintained the video and audio quality of the spots. The satellite companies offer quality control as part of their service. And with ADTrax, a bad file can quickly be replaced.

If all goes well, he said, other networks in the AOL Time Warner family may adopt ADTrax.