Seeing Spots... And Spots... And More Spots

Spot delivery is in a whirlwind of change. If it hasn’t yet, you’ll likely be impacted by these changes very soon.
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Spot delivery is in a whirlwind of change. If it hasn’t yet, you’ll likely be impacted by these changes very soon. It could be in the form of an e-mail or simply a new server that shows up on your desk. For the local station, these changes can, and in many cases are, causing a management nightmare.

We all long for the days of tape to be gone and we’re making progress, but there are significant issues in the evolution from tape-to-digital electronic delivery. These issues will require involvement and cooperation between the provider, the broadcast station, and in some cases, the corporate IT folks.

The benefits are plain to see. Electronic delivery is fast, accurate and can work well. It can eliminate tape, handling, mailing, postage, damage, loss, missed deadlines, storage issues, etc. It sure sounds wonderful!

For our stations, it’s becoming an administrative mess. Here’s why.

IN THE OLD DAYS

In the past, tapes would be received at the station. Once cataloged, the general process would be to ingest the tape, check and adjust audio levels, trim the spot appropriately … and you were done. It was an expected, daily, manageable workflow process that was clearly understood.

As electronic delivery emerged, we typically dealt with one or two providers. The process of utilizing their electronic delivery method was quickly learned. It was a teamwork approach that stabilized some of the issues and resulted in a reasonable workflow. If you were lucky, you could make minor adjustments and ingest directly to your production environment.

However, if the delivered product didn’t fit with your station workflow, the benefits quickly disappeared. In some cases, it’s necessary to offload the electronic version to tape, only to re-ingest the spot into an acceptable, workable format. That doesn’t provide any advantage to a local station. It actually can create additional workload and strain management processes.

Quite frankly, dealing with one or two vendors was workable. The volume of spots received at least permitted you the opportunity to develop a workable, repetitive solution. Unfortunately, that appears to be quickly changing.

As of right now, I have at least seven spot providers attempting to provide “improved service” and convince me of the benefits. What has been overlooked is the complication this causes. There is little, if any, commonality between the systems or approach. There is no standardization. That means stations will be overwhelmed with learning multiple new processes and workflows in order to make each solution work.

STANDARDIZED SOLUTIONS

Some are hardware-based, some are software-based and at least one or two of the methods violate our internal security standards by attempting to initiate inbound connections to our network. Each has a variety of formats to “suit our needs.” Some have closed captioning, some don’t.

And you could be in the position of having to find a solution for one vendor that only provides you a single spot.

Our sales associates have a valid concern. They want to make sure to get the spot in-house and on-air. We all do. But the promotions currently being used by some of the newer spot providers just don’t ring true. This revolutionary new service isn’t saving us money, effort or time. In fact, it’s just the opposite. We’re all working with fewer resources.

For the providers, I’m sure there is great cost savings in tape duplication and postage alone. For the stations, however, there’s the potential for five or six new and different procedures.

We’re looking at additional costs for bandwidth to handle the capacity (nighttime delivery isn’t always an answer… we have other systems utilizing bandwidth during off-peak hours), storage space, etc. What additional personnel resources will be required by your site to handle the myriad delivery methods, let alone the management of hardware? And, if it’s a software solution, you get to provide the hardware. This can result in significant cost to each site.

The other challenge is the method of delivery. In order to keep your network secure, it’s your responsibility to ensure that devices or processes added to your network meet your requirements.

As an example, I am not going to risk the security of a network on a vendor-supplied device, with instructions to simply plug one NIC into our network, and a second NIC to an Internet broadband solution. I’m not comfortable at all relying solely on a software-based operating system firewall. This approach and others like it are not adequate for security, but it’s an approach I’ve seen.

I have no doubt that electronic delivery is the way of the future… and I’m all for it. It’s here, and it will continue to grow rapidly. But we need help from the spot providers to ensure some form of standardization in processing and delivery exist.

I sincerely hope our early experiences will lead to a better solution and an understanding of the impact this currently has on individual stations. A common approach and the development of standards between all providers would be a wonderful thing. In the meantime, the burden is on us to protect our environments and still provide solutions for our customers. Count on IT!

Mike J. Sutton is director of IT at Media General Broadcast Group in Richmond, Va. He can be reached atmsutton@mgbg.com.