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New Partnership's Special Sauce

Media DVX & Pathfire serve the whole enchilada

WEST CHESTER, PA.

Digital media services provider Media DVX has taken on a new partner, Pathfire, to reach "99 percent of all U.S. broadcast stations."

Pathfire distributes digital content¾particularly news and long-form features¾to broadcasters, news organizations and Hollywood studios. The company hit pay dirt this spring when Paramount, King World and Viacom contracted Pathfire to deliver their syndicated programming to about 1,400 TV stations, beginning this fall.

The new partnership will quickly add 300 sites serviced by Pathfire (but not Media DVX) to the estimated 825 locations already receiving content from Media DVX ¾primarily ads from advertisers and their service providers.

But the actual accomplishment goes beyond the numbers.

"The secret sauce here is the ability to have a completely ubiquitous electronic footprint so that agencies and advertisers can send stuff out last minute--rapidly and inexpensively," said Media DVX President Scott Yetter. "And for TV stations to get multiple kinds of content through one pipe."

BEYOND SNEAKERNET

To understand the delivery timetables offered to clients now, one generally starts with Fedex, which sets an 8:00 p.m. deadline for standard, next-day delivery by about 10:30 a.m., unless the client shipping the material is close to an overnight hub. Costs involve $30 to $35 for a premium tape as well as the Fedex charge.

Air carriers provide the only "emergency" alternative and, though rates are "all over the place," said Yetter, he estimated a client would pay at least $100 to trim delivery to 6 to 8 hours.

After the upgrades, said Yetter, "we'll be able to deliver it in as little as one hour." Adding quality control to the equation, he estimated that content could easily be delivered in four hours or less.

And because tape is not a factor, the digital alternative would cut delivery cost by 30 to 40 percent for standard delivery (as well as offering a midnight deadline) and by more than 50 percent for emergency cases, he said.

The partners' in-house teams devised all upgrades. Media DVX developed back office software that splits the destination list into two groups, said senior vice president of operations, Robert Lawrence. The first routes entries into the pre-existing Media DVX delivery system. A second directs the rest through a series of computer systems¾and ultimately a terrestrial network¾to the Pathfire network operations center in Atlanta.

"We provide to Pathfire a list of destinations, along with the high-quality [MPEG-2] content to be delivered and a low-resolution [Windows Media or MPEG-1] preview of that clip," Law-rence said. "In the Pathfire system, the clip is stored on Pathfire's Digital Media Gate-way--anyone with LAN access within the station will be able to preview the clip." (Media DVX clients store clips locally and, thanks to Web-enabled apps, can access them on any of their desktop PCs.)

The two companies set up a Simple Object Access Protocol interface, said Pathfire's co-chief technology officer, Joe Fabiano. Media DVX uses the SOAP interface to send the ads and metadata, and Pathfire uses it to send delivery reports to Media DVX, which enables Media DVX to update its billing system. Writing the software took about two weeks.

"We already work in the Web services world, so metadata comes into our system through an XML gateway," said Fabiano. "SOAP is an extension of those same technologies."

WORKFLOW DECISIONS

Fabiano said they spent more time deciding "who's going to do what" and how to address stations.

"Some stations are a hub--and they need to receive content that's addressed to multiple stations," said Fabiano. "Other stations are spokes out on the hub, which need to receive their content through some other site."

Hardware also was upgraded to dub servers and receiver equipment for additional output and storage capability on a station-by-station basis.

"Each station is configured quite differently based on the amount of content that they're taking and types of content," said Pat Poersch, Pathfire's director of short-form distribution. He noted that hardware was "custom-spec'd and ordered through an IBM integrator."

According to Poersch's assessment, the new system would be a "one-shop-stop" for Pathfire's clients, precluding the addition of servers from rival companies and the elimination of equipment clients have.

"It's an easier path of upgrade than if they were to bring in a completely new source for the distribution and receipt of ads," he said. "We've got a major presence in delivering network news content as well as a major presence in long-form syndicated content. Ads are the last frontier--we were not a major [ad] distributor."

Media DVX president Yetter said the new system was installed at his company well before the deal was announced on Oct. 4.

"We have to wait for Pathfire to finish rolling out their equipment for syndication distribution," he said. "And we have to contact each individual station and train [traffic personnel] to know what to look for before we can bring [the stations] up."

"Well over 60 percent have been hooked up," said Poersch. Our goal is to have 100 percent deployment by the end of the year."