T&B Embracing Multiplatform, BXF Integration

Broadcasters want traffic and billing systems that can handle ads for websites and mobile as adeptly as they do broadcast spots and that can integate seamlessly with master control automation. Vendors are doing their best to meet this demand. Says Larry Keene of the Traffic Directors Guild of America: “Every traffic software person we’ve spoken to in the last month and a telling us the attention being given to mobile and Web is almost equaling the time and efforts taken for the TV.”

Multiplatform functionality and automation integration with the Broadcast Exchange Format (BXF) are what broadcasters are looking for from broadcast management software systems.

Why? Because they improve efficiency, reduce operating expenses and enhance revenues.

Money, in other words.

Broadcasters already are tapping new revenue veins from emerging platforms, including digital second channels and the Web. Mobile’s on the near horizon. Broadcasters are eager to get their hands on the tools that will help them mine all those veins to the max.

“The biggest hot buttons are scheduling of programs and commercials that go beyond the standard over-the-air … TV station,” says Larry Keene, head of the Traffic Directors Guild of America. “Every traffic software person we’ve spoken to in the last month and a half…is telling us the attention being given to mobile and Web is almost equaling the time and efforts taken for the TV.”

“What we look at and try and track is what’s going to cause money to be spent,” says Joe Zaller of Devoncroft Partners, a market research firm. “Multiplatform is what everybody’s talking about and traffic and billing is essential to that.”


As Zaller and Keene point out, nearly every dollar in revenue a station generates runs through the T&B system. With more dollars flowing from non-traditional sources, that puts more demands on the T&B system. The money may look the same, but a Web banner ad is substantially different from an auto dealer ad on air.

Today’s T&B system can deal with what platform an ad runs, as well as the typical issues of when it runs and how it’s billed. Mobile, while still nascent, adds another layer of complexity.

WideOrbit embeds Internet and streaming functionality in its market-leading WO Traffic software via the License Manager function embedded in the software. By activating that license, the customer switches on Internet and streaming functions. The company introduced WO Mobile, a separate product that addresses mobile campaigns, at the end of last year.

Harris also embeds multiplatform functions within the OSI software, says John Patrick, managing director of North American Media. The summer release of OSI integrates Google’s Desktop for Publishers API, letting clients order banner adds within OSI; track proof of performance on the Internet orders; and integrate linear and Internet onto single invoice. OSI currently manages linear mobile logs.

Crist Myers, president/CEO of Myers Information Systems, puts it this way: “From our perspective, it doesn‘t matter where you deliver content. We support you wherever you want to distribute content. Some of the details needed to modify content for a device are downstream from where we are. But we keep track of where you are sending your content.”

With T&B systems multitasking more, their ability to communicate with automation systems is crucial.

The tool for enabling that communication, BXF, is available but not yet in wide deployment.

“We need better standardization; we still have format wars out there,” says Jim Ocon, vice president-technology at Gray Television. “We’re still waiting for a wider rollout of BXF.”

BXF is the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) industry standard intended to standardize three types of data involving T&B and master control and production automation systems: schedule and as-run information, content metadata and content movement instructions.

It’s also the key to enabling live log functionality like Harris OSi, Wide Orbit and other vendors increasingly offer.

“More and more traffic software companies are providing a live log where, as need be, you can insert new commercials in an instant and have traffic software take care of billing and modifications as they occur,” says Keene.

Michael Ambrose, product manager for WO Traffic, says BXF enables several key functions: automated dub and purge transactions, live log changes and real-time spot reconciliation.

The automated dub function tells master control to automatically generate a file about what’s in the traffic system when a piece of copy is entered into the copy system. With the auto purge function, each time an item is purged, master control and T&B communicate to let each other know something has been removed. The function is performed on an item-by-item basis versus using batch files, which was the historical process.

With live log function enabled, traffic directors can make changes at any point prior to air time. Real-time spot reconciliation is self-explanatory: Spots, instead of having to wait 24 hours for log generation, are reconciled as they air. That reduces the time to correct errors and thus reduces potential revenue losses.

Multiplatform functionality for T&B still leads the wish list at stations, but BXF live log is gaining traction, says Chuck Kocsis, manager of product interoperability at Harris.

“BXF is one of the things we’ve been focused on,” he says. “There are two major stories around BXF: efficiency around the operations side, which cuts back work in master control operations and maybe more importantly, changes in work flow around the sales side. You can sell inventory as few as five minutes before air. The only limitation is around the comfort level for customers.”

Myers Information Systems was an early leader in adopting BXF. “If we can automate flow of information better, we don’t need other systems down the broadcast chain to have brains of their own,” says CEO Crist Myers. “There should be one system that has a tremendous amount of ability upfront to feed every system what it needs to know when it needs to know it. We have a long way to go to attain that pure vision…. It’s not about the hardware, it’s about the software, the brain, if you will.”

BXF allows Myers’ flagship product, ProTrack TV, to facilitate integration between traffic and play-to-air automation via its automation integration module.

That, in turn, helps reduce what Myers calls “sneaker netting,” thus improving efficiency.

Wide Orbit’s Ambrose says the company has BXF integration running with a Crispin Broadcast Automation system in a client environment and also with a Harris automation system in a test environment.

One reason for the less than speedy implementation of BXF: Greater emphasis on addressing digital and mobile platforms, says Ambrose.

“The ability to manage multiple platforms affects sales and therefore has greater emphasis in the customers we serve,” he says. “Sales drives decisions and drives prioirities on what we’re asked to make enhancements to the system for.”

What broadcast engineers don’t want is more hardware, which equates with higher costs, more moving parts and more things that can go wrong.

“For Gray, we’ve gone through our transition, we call it the Gray model,” says Ocon. “We were among the first mid-sized station groups to eliminate master control. On the automation side, we’re looking to make sure we’re future-proofing ourselves so that a secondary event — Internet or mobile — can run with the automation system. That’s key for a smooth broadcast day.”

A few years back, Gray went with Harris ADC, Ross OverDrive and Vizrt to automate operations. That switch helped cut the number of server racks in station operations to 10 or 12 from 30 or more, Ocon says. It also entailed a massive integration initiative that Ocon compared to a brain-heart-lung transplant.

And Gray’s not alone.

“A lot of people are using some form of automation,” says Vijay Kumar, vice president of engineering at Wide Orbit. “They want an integrated solution.”

Increasingly, integration means adding analytics capability — software that can process current and historical data on key performance indicators (KPIs) in a variety of ways depending on what the user wants.

“Our customers have data,” Kumar says, “what they want to do is slice and dice it in different ways and they want to do it interactively.”

(Editor’s note: TVNewsCheck will have more about analytics and its sibling sales management software next Thursday.)

When a network, station group or standalone station buys a traffic and billing system, or any other system for that matter, it is, in a real sense, a marriage. Divorces happen but they’re expensive and to be avoided if possible. Vendors seek to maintain the relationship through customer service and product updates.

One key to keeping that business marriage viable is integration: ensuring that old and new systems, as well as systems from different vendors, work together.

Such integration is key to helping the industry survive and thrive, engineers say.

“Desperation drives innovation,” Ocon says. “What does a computer care who’s telling it to run an event? The best technology should be invisible.”

Vendors themselves are well aware they need to address not just current needs but also look to future needs.

“Non-traditional sources, non-linear broadcasting — all of it is garnering more and more interest,” says Michael Atkin, president of BroadView Software. “It’s not a big number yet but it’s growing. If you don’t get that, you’re going to be gobbled up. The strategy starts yesterday.”

Comments (0)

Leave a Reply