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Traffic System Vendors Go Into Overdrive

The market for integrated traffic and billing systems has been transformed in recent months, with more vendors expanding into the cable network sector as they continue to refine offerings aimed at streamlining operations in the broadcast station business.

“The cable business right now is completely wide open, and the landscape is ripe for someone to become the go-to vendor of choice,” says Michael Atkin, president and CEO of BroadView Software, whose customers include Discovery, BET and Ion Media Networks.

The increased activity was triggered in part by the dominant player in the broadcast station market acquiring the trafficking system assets of the dominant player in the cable sector. WideOrbit, a developer of business management software for media companies, purchased VCI Solutions’ Orion Business System assets in November 2010 in a move to expand into the cable network arena.

But the ramp-up also reflects cable networks’ need to find better systems to handle multiplatform distribution of content, as well as the fact that some larger networks that developed in-house systems are now looking to reduce costs by using an outside vendor.

“There is a mad scramble to pick up systems that were developed in-house 10 or 15 years ago when there was one choice, and now there are five choices with much better features,” says John Larrabee, VP Americas for Pilat Media, whose clients include HBO Latin America and Showtime Networks. The company spent $12 million on version 6 of its Integrated Broadcast Management System, currently being rolled out.

WideOrbit has made considerable progress over the past year switching programmers from homegrown systems to its WO Network cable channel solution, reports Eric Mathewson, founder and CEO.

“One of the issues for cable networks was that you had sales and traffic systems from different suppliers, which meant that getting them to talk to each other was challenging,” Mathewson explains. “We’ve built a sales system that is native to our traffic system and are offering one system that is being adopted by some of the largest cable networks and broadcasters.”

Besides WideOrbit, Broadview Software and Pilat Media, others looking to expand their cable footprint include Broadway Systems, which works with such companies as BBC America, Music Choice, TV One and other clients that handle about $3 billion in advertising; Invision, whose clients include DirecTV (for its Deal- Maker ad sales solution) and Bloomberg (for its DealMaker Crossroad system); and SintecMedia, whose clients include ABC and NBCUniversal.

SintecMedia is implementing its enterprisewide system at 18 cable channels and broadcast networks, notes Dan Yuval, VP of product management. The system is designed “to manage a large and complex environment with a very rich feature set” that “goes way beyond traffic,” he adds.

SintecMedia is also developing an additional component to streamline workflows for multiplatform operations with “a single, unified solution to handle multiple platforms,” Yuval says.

Broadcast stations are also moving to streamline the process of handling sales, traffic and billing, and a number of vendors remain focused on that market as well. “Clients want a single advertiser record,” says Mathewson of WideOrbit, which rolled out a mobile module earlier this year as part of its focus on expanding multiplatform functionality. “Clients don’t want a separate record for their mobile, online video or traditional station and network operations. They want one record across all of them.”

Additionally, stations continue to look for solutions that will “drive efficiencies across their sales, traffic and billing systems” by standardizing and centralizing systems, says John Patrick, managing director of North American media at Harris Broadcast Communications, which develops a range of software for media companies.

On that front, one notable development at broadcast stations has been tighter integration between traffic and automation systems using BXF, the broadcast exchange format.

Harris’ Live Update BFX product is generating “tremendous benefi ts on the traffic side around productivity,” says Chuck Kocsis, manager of product interoperability. “But we are also seeing the benefi ts in being able to increase revenue,” because BXF integrations make it much easier to insert new ads at the last minute.

This will be particularly important over the next few months, as stations manage political ads. “We have some station groups that are really pushing to get this installed so they can take advantage of last-minute election buys,” Patrick says.

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