Although the technology in a TV station has changed remarkably in the last 30 years, the operational structures and workflows have evolved little from the days when ads were aired from an Ampex ACR-25 (that’s a tape cart machine that used 2in tape). Today’s ads are delivered as files and aired from video servers, yet most TV station operate much like they did when the workflow was dictated by the movement of videotape.
The different departments have tended to purchase software applications to suit their own needs. Programming, sales, traffic and master control have often purchased equipment without much regard for the need to interoperate with the other departments. This natural evolution has led to software applications operating in silos, and the exchange of data via schedules, playlists, record lists and as-run logs is not unlike the baton passed around in a relay race.
The development of BXF has standardized the “baton,” but within the existing architecture. Does all this matter? If everything runs to plan, it works. However, the master control operator often finds that a scheduled spot is missing from the playout server. It is inevitable that mistakes will happen; for example, the sales process is asynchronous from the distribution and ingest of commercials. The operator could substitute something else, another spot or a promo, but the operator is not party to the information needed to swap out a spot. Without the contractual details that are available to sales, the substitute may conflict with contractual obligations. The net result of substitution often ends up being a make good — a revenue loss to the station.
One way around this is to phone sales and resolve the substitute ad, possibly a lengthy and inefficient process. And what if it’s the weekend and no one from sales is around? With stations more focused on revenue than ever, make goods are being avoided at all costs. Timely messaging between automation and traffic/sales can provide a solution to this problem. As soon as the automation parses a new playlist and queries the server content database, a report of missing ads can be forwarded to traffic for remedial action.
During NAB, VCI Solutions showed an alternate solution, Verity. Side-stepping the existing architecture, the company has integrated the back-office systems and the automation into a seamless application.
Verity is a real-time, single-management system that automates the process of sales, traffic, operations and billings. All parts of the system have access to the business rules and the contracts and rights information.
Sarah Foss, president/CEO of VCI Solutions explained how: “We have subsumed automation functionality into a single management system. We have allowed a business to operate in silos and software packages have been sold to those discriminate silos. We have allowed the workflows of 30 years ago to dictate how people bought and sold software, but we can’t afford it anymore; we have to work smarter. [We believe that] the business rules should drive the workflow; nothing else matters.”
“We have eliminated re-entry and rekeying of data. It is truly management by exception … an operator could decide to go ‘lights out’ in master control,” Foss said. “If there is a problem, it is a self-healing system. It can notify the sales department and automatically reschedule [the spot] to protect the revenue.”