Traffic Systems StrengthenTies to Automation | @GeorgeWinslow

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As broadcasters push vendors to make it easier to integrate various systems in their infrastructure, some of the most notable developments have occurred in the area of traffic and billing.

In this dynamic sector of the business, vendors are increasingly creating much tighter integrations between traffic and billing systems with both automation and media asset management systems. These integrations are notable because they expand the capabilities of traffic and billing systems in ways that promise to both cut operating costs and increase potential revenue from advertising sales.

Scott Rose, director of product management at Miranda, explains that in the past a number of traffic systems were not capable of handling some of the advanced features of their automation systems. In the last 18 months, however, there has been a concerted effort between vendors to tie those systems more tightly together.

"We are seeing a real openness by traffic systems to take advantage of the capabilities of advanced automation systems," Rose says. "It is a refreshing change that is really benefiting broadcasters."

Part of this reflects the growing acceptance of the broadcast exchange format, or BXF, which was first standardized by the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers in 2008 but has only gained significant traction in the market during the last year or two.

One problem was that BXF was initially designed as a very broad standard and vendors tended to implement it in different ways, which made integrations more complex. Increasingly, however, vendors are working with a subset of BXF that has made it easier to deploy. "BXF is now much easier to engage with because everyone has much more experience in how to do it," Rose says.

Ties That Bind

Ian Young, Snell automation product specialist, notes that the greater acceptance of BXF is now allowing broadcasters to more quickly implement new features. In the past, most of those integrations had been done through customized applications programming interfaces, or APIs. These were time-consuming and costly to create and update when new products or features came to market.

"There were big risks with bringing in new features and swapping out products," Young explains. "The BXF standard has greatly reduced the risks and is offering broadcasters great benefits."

BXF integrations between traffic and automations systems are most widely used to implement live logs. But the closer ties between the two systems are also helping to streamline the multiplatform delivery of content and to automate the handling of more complex elements, such as the integration of live social media feeds into the on-air broadcast.

In the past, traffic operators had sent down playlists to master control once a day and operators would have to manually make any changes. In contrast, live logs allow those changes to be sent to the automation system only a few minutes before airtime. "Initially there are obvious operational efficiencies, but stations are also starting to see how they can drive new revenue opportunities and models," says John Patrick, managing director of North America media at Harris Broadcast, which has implemented live logs at a number of stations.

Making Good on Sales

Greater flexibility can also allow traffic operators to run ads later in the schedule to reduce make-goods from ads that had to be pre-empted or for some reason did not air. "From day one, stations are seeing a reduction in make-goods," Patrick explains.

Such advantages have prompted a number of stations and broadcasters to implement live logs.

CBS, for example, has implemented a live log on Pilat Media's IBMS traffic and billing system that is integrated via BXF to a Miranda iTX automation system, explains John Larrabee, VP of Americas at Pilat Media. This allows automated changes within 15 minutes of airtime.

Likewise, Myers Information Systems has helped implement a live log using its traffic and billing system at the central-casting hub for PBS stations in update New York, says the company's CTO, Tracy Carter. "BXF has greatly consolidated and streamlined the process of these integrations," Carter explains.

"We are getting very good feedback from all the major groups," adds Chuck Koscis, systems engineering manager, product interoperability at Harris Broadcast, which offers both traffic and automation technologies.

Error-Free Logging

Vendors caution, however, that the move to a live log needs to be done carefully so that the process of automatically making changes does not produce dead airtime or other serious errors. "How stations adjust their workflows is very important, because you have more and more situations where there might be no operators in master control or anyone in traffic to deal with problems during certain times of day," Carter says.

"I think everyone is headed in the direction of live logs," adds Eric R. Mathewson, founder and CEO of WideOrbit, which integrated its WO Traffic system with 39 automation systems. "We are doing it and our competitors are implementing it. But we are still in a trial and error period of trying to make it work perfectly because it is a huge change in normal workflows."

To avoid potential problems, stations are setting up deadlines for changes that allow the log to be checked for errors and workflows designed to reduce errors, explains Karyn Reid Bliss, U.S. director of product management at SintecMedia, which has several clients using live logs. "Some are setting up security systems so that only certain people can make changes at the last minute," Bliss adds.

Other station groups are also implementing live logs gradually and pushing the deadline when changes can be made further back into the schedule until their staff gets comfortable with the new system. Broadcasters also have different workflows and infrastructures that need to be addressed during the deployment.

"Implementations are very much a consultative process," explains Koscis. "The key to success is identifying workflow changes and training."