ePort Processes Record Local Broadcast Ad Buys

Michael McHugh (Image credit: FreeWheel)

Comcast’s ad tech company FreeWheel, said agencies spent a record $1.26 billion using the  automated ePort platform to buy ads from local stations and rep firms during September.

(Image credit: FreeWheel)

The total smashed the previous record of $936 million set in December 2019 and illustrates that local TV ad spending is making a comeback after slowing to a trickle because of COVID-19, and that the automated system is making it easier for more agencies to make local buys.

In September 2019, ePort, part of FreeWheel’s Strata ad buying platform, handled $602 million in local broadcast buys. But Michael McHugh, VP, media eBusiness at FreeWheel said a better comparison is September 2018--the previous election year, when spending was $809 million.

McHugh said that a lot of the political money was already on the books before September. “So what you’re seeing now is the economy coming back and local marketers wanting to get their message out,” he said.

So far this year ePort has delivered orders for advertising worth $6.115 billion, putting it on track to top more than $8 billion in 2020, beating the record set in 2018 of $7.197 billion.

More than 500 agencies used ePort in September. When it started in 2011, there were 76 using the platform.

ePort was originally set up in 2007 by the TVB with contributions from a consortium of station owners. It was built by FreeWheel as part of Strata and in 2011, the TVB transferred ownership to Strata which manages the platform, with underwriting from Katz Media and Cox Reps.

“You can call it the first wave of automation,” McHugh said. He said the original vision was to find a way to make buying broadcast easier.

“It’s the most democratic way to get to all the stations,” McHugh said.

The system also increases reliability While orders in the system were always received by the stations electronically, these days they are routed automatically into the stations traffic systems. That eliminates the need to re-key the order, and reduces errors and discrepancies.

The automated system also has benefits as station ownership consolidates. “They’re all looking for these efficient electronic connections,” McHugh said.

In addition to over-the-air commercials, ePort is able to handle stations’ digital inventory, whether its over-the-top or secondary digital channels.

“It’s interesting because the standard has been flexible enough that it’s accommodating much of this first wave of digital buying and selling,” McHugh said. “We continue to enhance it so it meets the needs of the business.”

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.