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Opening for Business Online

Vendors Of traffic and billing systems have long touted their software’s ability to improve the way TV stations sell airtime, but now two major vendors are preparing to roll out competing systems that would allow stations and advertisers to sell airtime online.

Last fall, WideOrbit began beta testing in San Diego of its WO Central, which allows stations, agencies and advertisers to negotiate deals for airtime via an online market. And in mid-February, Harris also jumped into the game, announcing that it had acquired the Malibu Media Platform, an online TV ad sales market, from Spot Runner.

WideOrbit is currently evaluating results from the San Diego trial, which involved ad agencies and four local affiliates. It is planning to begin a nationwide rollout over the summer and fall of this year, reports Eric R. Mathewson, founder and CEO of WideOrbit.

Harris meanwhile is talking to customers about how best to redeploy Malibu, which had been shut down last August. “One of our goals has long been to improve the link between buyers and sellers,” notes Scott Criley, new products director, media software systems for Harris Broadcast Communications. “We see Malibu as a logical extension of that idea. It provides a way to connect buyers and sellers more seamlessly.”

Criley also believes the Malibu system can strengthen Harris’ advanced advertising products. He anticipates Harris will bring the Malibu system back into the market in the second quarter.

The success of both online markets will depend on the willingness of stations and channels to embrace the idea, which would mark a fairly major shift in the way they approach sales. “The big thing is that the stations need to commit to doing business that way, and then force business through that channel to be effective,” notes Brian Burdick, CTO at Lucid Commerce, one of the agencies that participated in the WideOrbit trial.

While that is potentially a big hurdle, Burdick believes there could be a big payoff for both stations and advertisers. “For a lot of advertisers it is currently not cost-effective to run buys across a bunch of broadcasters,” he contends. “By increasing the efficiency with a system like this, it becomes more attractive for advertisers to aggregate buys.”

WideOrbit is betting that it can get a critical mass of stations because its traffic and billing systems are already widely used. “WideOrbit has installed traffic systems in all four network affiliates in 22 DMAs,” notes Mathewson. “We have three of four affiliates in about 75 DMAs and we have two of four in another 80 DMAs, so we have a critical mass for buyers,” with about 700 stations using its software.

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