Navigating the New Traffic

In recent years, television stations, networks and cable channels have single-mindedly followed a relatively simple road map—cut costs by automating or centralizing operations while building up digital, online, on demand and mobile platforms to create new revenue. But as these multiplatform efforts start to pick up speed, programmers keep running into an unexpected roadblock: The increased complexity of delivering content to all these digital platforms. More manual labor introduced into the trafficking and billing process has slowed a longstanding trend towards more automation.

“As the business has become more complicated, the processes have become more complicated,” notes Robert Furlong, president and CEO of VCI Solutions, which announced last week that it will sell its Orion Business System trafficking and sales operation to WideOrbit. “The industry is really looking for ways to get back to a very automated process in all the platforms.”

“Clients would like all the media forms—Internet, mobile and broadcast media—all tracked and billed in the same form with all the bells and whistles they would normally get” for their broadcast sales operations, adds Eric Mathewson, founder and CEO of WideOrbit, which recently installed its software at Lin Media and provides software used by more than 4,000 TV and radio stations, cable networks, cable interconnects and digital out-of-home networks around the world. “As an industry, we aren’t at that full capability, but it is changing pretty quickly,” Mathewson says.

As vendors work to address the complexity of multiplatform systems, they are also seeing a renewed push by stations to centralize more operations. “We’re now seeing another level of hubbing, where you have groups like Meredith that have decided to do all traffi cking operations in Atlanta,” explains Mathewson. “All the large groups that currently don’t have a hub are looking at whether the math works for them. They all are trying to be more effi cient and find software that does that for them.”

This push to centralize operations extends beyond commercial broadcast stations and cable, where MSOs have been regionalizing many traffi cking and billing operations, into public television and faith-based broadcasting, adds Crist Myers, president and CEO, Myers Information Systems, which works with more than 1,500 channels worldwide. “We are already in discussion with several state networks and regional networks to explore the types of efficiencies to be gained,” Myers says.

Myers and others also see this drive towards centralization and automation extending even further into managed or outsourced services.

John Patrick, product director, North American Media at Harris Corp., notes that “we have been approached by some stations and station groups about a managed-service option,” and that Harris sees it as a growing opportunity

Beyond the new wave of centralization, broadcasters public and private are also looking for software systems that can handle a wider array of functions and help them more efficiently manage their operations, Patrick adds. One example of that was Harris’ deal last month with Belo Corp. Besides extending the contract for Harris’ OSi-Traffic solution, Belo also added the corporation’s Osi-AdConnections broadcast sales software and NetGain analytics solution. “As the importance of the Internet and mobile grow as a percentage of their revenue, they really need a good back-office solution that can handle all aspects of their operations,” Patrick says.

Pilat Media Vice President of Sales for North America John Larrabee notes that his company, a leading global supplier of business management software to the media industry, has taken this a step further by adding tools to help clients track both revenue and programming costs. “At a time when programming costs are high and advertising revenues are down, the key from a systems perspective is to have visibility to all your numbers,” Larrabee explains. “Having a system that just inserts spots and then bills customers is not enough. You need systems that give you the intelligence you need on your operations.”

Stations are also looking to reduce some of the complexity by using the Broadcast eXchange Format (BXF) standard, which helps traffic systems communicate seamlessly with master control automation. “It makes it a lot easier to maintain our clients,” notes Myers, whose company was the first to implement BXF. “Instead of making a proprietary interface and changing that every time there is an upgrade, we can use the BXF standard and make a change once.”

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