A common misconception about the Broadcast Exchange Format (BXF) is that the technology is what's so interesting about it. While the technology and capabilities of BXF are indeed impressive and considerable, the workflow aspects are the most compelling. The workflow aspects are the most likely to have the biggest effect on organizations implementing BXF.
Few broadcasters decide to introduce new technology without a solid business case to support it. It can be expensive and disruptive if done without properly examining the reasons behind the implementation and the likely impact on the way business is conducted. Clearly, an understanding of the technology is required, but one must also consider how the technology will affect the people and workflows that it touches.
A good initial goal is to understand what you are trying to accomplish with a technology such as BXF. Do you hope to cut costs? Do you want to find new revenues? Is your plan to streamline operations? Once you identify your objectives, you can appreciate the deeper effects of the technological change on your organization.
It is critical to comprehend the significant workflow changes that something like BXF implies before rolling it out across your organization. Above all else, workflows with formerly loosely and poorly connected processes will be brought closer together with systems integration rather than interoperability being the key.
For example, many wonder whether BXF means that traffic and scheduling starts controlling automation. The answer is not simple. BXF does allow traffic and scheduling to dynamically update events on automation's playout list, exchange content metadata and automatically exchange content transfer information. This automates many previously manual processes. Whether it means that traffic and scheduling is taking over automation is up to how a particular organization chooses to adjust its workflow, staffing and even structure in response to the implementation of BXF. (See Figure 1.) This article will discuss some of the capabilities of BXF. Examining these capabilities is a good way to gauge what effect such a rollout could have on your organization.
The capabilities of BXF
Schedule/as-run is the most commonly referenced component of BXF. The main benefit that BXF offers is the ability to dynamically tie together scheduling and playout areas so that changes in one area are automatically reflected in the other. This way, day-of-air program or commercial content changes can be made easily and seamlessly in scheduling — and playout is aware of these changes quickly and automatically. On the flip side, immediate as-run notification is also possible using BXF.
Content metadata can be easily shared among systems using BXF. The depth of content metadata supported is quite deep, both for program and nonprogram (commercial) content. This allows for more automated ingest procedures, as well as better synchronization among systems dealing with content metadata.
With content (both program and commercial) increasingly being delivered as files, the need to manage the transfer of this content in an automated fashion becomes more important. BXF allows systems to exchange transfer information and to automate the movement of content from source to destination.
With these three main areas of capability in mind, it is important to consider which parts of your organization would be affected by the introduction of BXF.
Clearly, the biggest impact here is in the area of schedule/as-run. The ability to make day-of-air changes to the schedule provides the sales team with greater flexibility in responding to customers' needs. The benefits here are potentially many, as are the workflow effects of automating this process. However, there's more than that. Allowing sales to make day-of-air changes has ripple effects. Among those may be pricing of spots, policy on what changes are permitted (perhaps a €1000 increment in revenue justifies a substitution of spots), and how close to air such changes can be permitted (again, a policy decision, not a technical one).
One other area in which BXF impacts sales is through its support of nontraditional revenue. This refers to ad revenue from items other than 30-second ads. BXF is equally adept at supporting sponsored logos, squeezes, voice-overs and any number of other nontraditional forms of advertising.
Again, before unleashing the sales force on all of these sources of revenue, it's important to consider the effects of booking more of these types of ads on other parts of the operation, such as traffic, playout and billing.
It all comes down to increased control over playout, which in itself can result in dramatic changes to the way scheduling is performed. When day-of-air changes are permitted, one must ensure that the extra work of initiating those changes is justified by the incremental revenue associated with those changes.
Simply making schedule changes is only the first step. You must also have the content in place and ready to play out for newly placed ads. BXF can help with content and content transfer functions, but it is important not to overlook this key requirement.
Does BXF mean that everyone related to old-style playout and automation is out of a job? Probably not, but it does mean that they will be able to focus on the most important aspect of their job — ensuring that the on-air product is of the highest quality.
As previously noted, although BXF enables increased automation of formerly manual processes, it can also complicate playout by placing increased demands on it. More frequent and complex schedule changes, along with the content movement and metadata demands implied by these, can put additional strain on the infrastructure and systems you use for playout. Be sure they're up to the task.
Increased automation in the areas of content metadata exchange and the transfer of content itself results in more automated and accurate ingest of material. Again, does this mean reduced headcounts? Perhaps, but it also means freeing up people from mundane tasks such as ingest so that they can focus on more critical items that are directly connected to revenue.
Near real-time as-run information is not only a boon to sales, but also to billing. There's more to it than that, though. Benefits run the gamut from simpler reconciliation to more accurate billing and fewer discrepancies.
The most important thing to remember is that billing is downstream of almost every BXF-related workflow change you introduce within the organization. However, it's easily overlooked. There can be great advantages to billing as a result of using BXF, but there can also be trickle-down effects that complicate things at this level.
This overview is by no means a comprehensive analysis of the potential impacts of BXF on a typical organization. The intent is to get you thinking about exactly how this technology may impact your operation — both in good and bad ways.
The best way to get started is to consider an alternate meaning of the BXF acronym: Begin by examining flows. Remember, technologies such as BXF are great, and, if implemented thoughtfully with regard for their workflow impacts, they can be powerful. However, if simply put in place with a “let's see how this works” attitude, your results may not be what you hoped for.
Chris Lennon is director of integration and standards for Harris Broadcast Communications.