Keeping Track

For what are probably the station’s two most financially important systems, traffic and master control, communication was limited to those flat text files exchanged each way, once a day. A new standard, BXF (Broadcast eXchange Format) has been designed to change that.
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WASHINGTON
Over the last few years, a lot of stations have concentrated on media workflow. But the automation system would, quite rightly so, sit in isolation; its only connection to the business world was a flat text file that contained the traffic log. At the end of each day a flat text file would be sent back containing the as run details. For what are probably the station’s two most financially important systems, traffic and master control, communication was limited to those flat text files exchanged each way, once a day. A new standard, BXF (Broadcast eXchange Format) has been designed to change that.

For many local stations, once a traffic log is sent down from the traffic department, sales and traffic become “electronically blind” until the reconciled as run log is returned. This interval can be anything from 36 hours to more than five days if weekends and holidays are involved. In today’s highly connected world of immediacy, where cash-flow and accountability have become more important than ever, this is no longer acceptable.

Another problem faced by manufacturers was that communication with other manufacturers’ systems was performed by proprietary drivers. This frequently resulted in each system having customized drivers that were often fragile on initial implementation and upgrades on either side notoriously broke the connection.

FINAL STAGES


(click thumbnail)The proposed BXF standard, in the final stages of ratification, is XML-based.These issues were recognized nearly three years ago by a group of manufacturers who got together to work on a standard. Their goal was to allow seamless communication between the key components in a transmission environment. This included traffic, automation, content delivery and program management systems. Under the auspices of SMPTE, the S22-10 committee worked for nearly three years to produce the BXF standard. This standard, which is in the final stages of ratification, should appear as SMPTE standard 2032 in the near future.

BXF was designed to act as a single standard for data exchange among various third-party systems, allowing real-time changes, status updates and reporting. BXF is XML-based, which makes the content machine friendly and readable. For those of us who have spent many hours deciphering traffic and as run logs in search of resolving issues, this brings welcome relief. According to Chris Lennon, director of integration and standards at Harris, and chair of the S22-10 sub-committee, the new standard “enables a more dynamic interaction between traffic and automation systems.” John Wadle, the vice president of technology at OmniBus Systems, a U.K.-based automation company believes that one of the major benefits of this standard “will be the standardization of the data exchange.”

The following example illustrates how useful BXF can be.

A Presidential news conference is scheduled in the morning. The end result is that some local breaks are pre-empted and subsequently any make goods and alterations to the traffic log are submitted to master control on a paper log. This alone can increase the possibility that mistakes can be made, and the possibility that they may not be identified until some 24 hours later. This can make it a costly exercise.

BXF also drastically cuts down the opportunities for costly mistakes, and in the above scenario allows the traffic department to amend the day’s playlist knowing that the changes will be reflected accurately and timely. Business rules can be set to ensure that changes will not go unnoticed, either alerting the master control operator to accept them or notifying them that changes have been made, even preventing changes within a predefined time window relative to the on-air event. This keeps the operator in charge, freeing them up to concentrate on the quality of the transmissions rather than bogged down in paperwork.

STAYING IN TOUCH

There are many benefits for using BXF. For example, once a spot has aired, the as run status will be updated immediately. Did the spot air within acceptable parameters? If not, intelligent business decisions can be made regarding rescheduling to optimize revenue. With real-time as run status, this can make the spot available for billing rather than waiting for manual reconciliation, improving cash flow. This gives account executives the option of keeping track of their client’s activity and permitting station management to check up-to-the-minute reports on any promotional campaigns.

A master control operator’s priority is to keep the station on-air and to protect the revenue as much as possible. However in the heat of battle they may not know if spot A is worth more than spot B when making good any spots that failed to air for whatever reason. Ultimately, business rules within traffic systems will be able to make those decisions and BXF will place these decisions back into the hands of the sales and traffic departments.

“Improving workflow and revenue optimization are some of the key reasons behind BXF,” said Rodney Mood, chief technology officer for Crispin Corp., a Raleigh, N.C.-based automation company. ‘The ability to optimize workflow days ahead is now realized with the ability for traffic to know what spots and programs are stored in the stations servers.”

With the additional ability to integrate catch servers, this will allow traffic to be aware of what is missing days ahead and make arrangements to obtain the media in advance, eliminating those 4 a.m. moments when the spot hasn’t arrived and it airs in the morning news. Traffic will now be able to see these systems on a real-time, rather than an as-needed basis. Dublists can be created in advance, not on the day needed, and with BXF, these dublists and purgelists can be dynamic.

Manufacturers have already started to create products that use the BXF standard. Sundance Digital, a division of Avid, has started to ship their BXF Gateway. The server, containing dual Ethernet cards sits as a secure gateway between the operation’s LAN and the business/house LAN.

“Not only was BXF created to standardize the messaging between traffic and automation but also to ensure that security was implemented as well,” said Rick Stora, product manager at Sundance in Irving, Texas.

Other BXF projects include a system installed by Crispin at WGCU, the public broadcasting division of Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, Florida. In addition, Harris has incorporated BXF into its H-Class compliant applications. Many others have also started the development process.

As with any new standard that affect established operations, it may not be the answer to every problem in the master control/traffic world. There are many complex customized unique automation operations with heavy graphics branding, all fired off as secondary events which may tax even the most robust traffic system, but at last, it’s a major step in the right direction for broadcasters and vendors alike.