SAN FRANCISCO—For any station or cable network to operate efficiently, there must be quiet and careful orchestration of a ballet known as traffic and billing, that—when run successfully—keeps programming flowing and customers happy.
But in today's murky and evolving advertising arena, however, that's not always an easy task. The goal is to keep a network's underlying machinery moving seamlessly and smoothly while myriad simultaneous transactions take place.
In an ideal world, "the right hand needs to know what the left hand is doing, in a single database where everything knows what everyone else is doing," said Crist Myers, president and CEO of Myers Information Systems in Northampton, Mass. "The industry needs to be able to knock down walls and create a smart workflow from start to end."
Harris's NetGain solution gives customers a clearer snapshot of how media is performing.
One of the new requirements in today's traffic and billing environment: proof of performance. "It's almost essential today," Myers said. "If your station is involved in contractual obligations, ultimately you need to share that you've done what you said you'd do."
Improvements in technology and evolving integration standards have made it easier for firms to provide updated data to customers, including producing affidavits as to when a spot aired and showcasing vital stats on previous airings. "There's a need to have more analytical information, which gives you a better opportunity to air content and get better ratings," Myers said.
Trafficking technologies are helping to dissect information into multiple views, and encouraging networks ask: if I put my schedule together this way, what can I generate? If I organize programming this way, can I maximize airtime and reach more viewers?
Harris's NetGain solution, a business intelligence and analysis system, deployed over its OSi and Novar traffic and billing solutions, gives customers a clearer snapshot of how media is performing. "It allows [broadcasters] to mine the data within their system to better serve their clients," said Scott Criley, director of new product development for Harris Media Systems. It gives a snapshot of what a particular customer buys, and allows users to set alerts around revenue or booking profiles. "If you think about an operational system, it's a complex system," he said. "We've made it simple to drag revenues and buy types over new information. It allows people to do ad hoc reporting."
A BRAVE NEW WORLD
Traffic and billing technologies are also being tasked with handling the murky world of secondary ad outlets, which range from Internet advertising to mobile ad spots.
"If you look at how the Internet is bought and sold in nonlinear advertising, it's done somewhat on an impression basis," Criley said, whose firm offers the OSi-Traffic management and accounting solution in addition to Novar. Harris recently introduced a set of modular components that interface with more linear systems that allows for dynamic ad insertion for VOD or ad insertion for the Internet. "[Customers] need to be able to monetize those different distribution platforms," he said.
Sales staffs now need to be able to sell inventory across any platform, not just traditional broadcast or cable.
The IBMS Sales solution from Pilat Media, for example, includes the ability to handle sales products from television to the Internet to VOD, all of which can be sold in the main proposal system, said John Larrabee, vice president of sales for the Americas for Pilat Media. The IBMS:InTouch system, an iPad-based sales solution, allows sales staff in the field to check status and then use the standard proposal system to flow data directly into a traffic system with automatic or manual placement of spots.
"The objective is to run through a single management system, to manage Internet billing, online campaigns and VOD campaigns," said John Sorensen, president of Broadway Systems. "And now the industry is looking at combined deals [of both TV and Internet advertising], with customers wanting to see performance, information and billing in a signal document. And on the cable side, they're wanting to see revenue and revenue recognition numbers."
Proconsultant Informatique, a French-based business management software developer, has enhanced its CINDY ad management tool to target advertising in nonlinear programming. For example, ads can be placed into VOD content based on pre-established profiles such as 18-24 year-old males with heavy music interests or 25-35 year-old adults with interests in news.
Traffic and billing solutions must also address an overwhelming amount of metadata—content, genre, aspect ratios, titles and descriptions—and keep it organized so a broadcaster can make wise decisions about scheduling.
Pilat Media created its TrafficCentral management console to better allow a station manager to see where things stand at any given moment. A dashboard reveals whether the ad logs are ready and if the schedules are prepared. "It's a status board that gives stations better tools to manage," Larrabee said. "Some traffic departments have to manage simultaneous HD and SD channels, or may have hundreds of channels to watch," he said. "We have one group that manages literally hundreds of channels at the same time."
In addition to the broadcast space, WideOrbit has placed its traffic and billing systems in several media forms, including digital display, cable MSOs, stadiums and digital billboards, said Eric Mathewson founder and CEO of WideOrbit in San Francisco.
There is a concerted industry-wide effort to make TV more addressable, Mathewson said. WideOrbit offers the WO Traffic solution, which addresses traffic, revenue management and billing. The goal is to gather details on advertising consumption down to a household, and even, personal level.