Stations Grapple With Internet-Advertising Pipe
New delivery services consume bandwidth, labor
By Glen Dickson -- Broadcasting & Cable, 8/10/2009 2:00:00 AM
At the same time that standard-definition syndicated delivery services are being overhauled in favor of new high-definition systems, local broadcasters are increasingly contending with a new delivery method for commercials. The television industry's broad shift over the past decade from tape-based ingest, storage and playback to file-based, server-centric operations has paved the way for advertisers to deliver commercials as files over the public Internet, either on their own by using basic FTP (file-transfer protocol) technology or through third-party firms.
Commercial âcatch serversâ from DG FastChannel and others have long used an Internet backchannel to confirm the receipt of files sent via satellite and to repair minor errors. But now advertisers are using the Internet as their primary ad-delivery pipe. While that reduces costs for advertisers compared to sending tapes or paying delivery firms like DG FastChannel, it creates new burdens for stations.
âThe problem we're running into now is that everybody and their brother wants to put a commercial up on their FTP site for you to get,â says Del Parks, Sinclair's VP of operations and engineering. âBut you're using your bandwidth. So what happens is they shift the cost to the TV stations.â
Besides dedicating expensive broadband bandwidth to receiving the ads, station personnel have to actively seek a file of a commercial and then download it, a time-consuming task. In most cases, they then have to use their own hardware and/or software to transcode the file to match the MPEG-2 file format used by their play-to-air server.
Parks and other broadcast engineers say that FTP workflow is a big step backward from DG FastChannel's Spot Boxes and other ad-delivery servers used by stations today; these servers automatically receive commercials and transfer those files to playout servers under the control of traditional broadcast automation systems. And they worry that the public-Internet delivery trend will keep accelerating, perhaps eventually extending to longer-form content such as syndicated shows. That could force them to upgrade their broadband speeds and curtail other uses for their bandwidth, such as using the Internet to share content between stations or pull news from the field.
âWe're getting faced with a lot of ad agencies that will not deliver content via satellite anymore but only over the public Internet, and that's painful,â says Raycom Media CTO Dave Folsom. âWe're already faced with national advertisers, and I'm sure the program-length stuff, the paid programming and syndicated programming, is not far behind. It's like a pizzeria saying that they want to continue to be in the pizza delivery business, but you'll provide the driver and the car.â
A number of Internet ad-delivery firms have sprung up in the past year as advertisers have looked to cut costs, including Extreme Reach, Hula Media Exchange and Rapid Transmit. Cable giant Comcast has also gotten into the game, unveiling its own Internet-based ad-delivery service that it will market to both cable operators and broadcasters.
âA whole lot of services have been springing up out of the weeds,â notes Ardell Hill, Media General's president of broadcast services. Media General has done some initial testing with Extreme Reach and other new Internet-based services, but hasn't yet received any meaningful volume of commercials through them. The station group already uses its broadband bandwidth to transmit graphics files between stations, and it is concerned about the potential impact of Internet ad delivery as it scales up.
To some degree, the FTP trend is âself-inflicted pain,â Hill says, as stations have moved away from commonly used tape formats like one-inch tape to a variety of different vendors' video servers and corresponding file formats. That can makes it harder for smaller advertisers and other content providers to figure out how to deliver their product to stations.
âBe careful what you ask for,â Hill warns. âWe got ourselves into an environment where file transfer is the call of the day. Whether it's a large finance or IT data file, or a large video file, managing bandwidth is a real significant issue.â
The transcoding tools from vendors such as Telestream and Rhozet, which are required to handle files delivered in a different format from stations' playout servers, can also be an expensive proposition. The Telestream systems that Media General uses run anywhere from $13,000 to $20,000 per device, depending on configuration, says Matt Heffernan, general manager of Media General's central broadcast operations in Spartanburg, S.C. As Heffernan points out: âIt can get expensive real quick.â
Extreme Reach, which officially launched in January, has raised nearly $6 million in venture financing and signed up 30 national advertisers including Geico, Hanes and UPS. Extreme Reach says it is well aware of broadcasters' concerns over Internet ad delivery. The Needham, Mass.-based company has tried to make the process easier for stations by pulling commercials from post-production houses and storing them in cloud storage until a station needs them. It also transcodes the files with whatever file wrapper a station needs for its playout server.
This method represents a leap forward from the hardware-based architecture used by DG FastChannel, says Extreme Reach CEO John Roland, who was president of FastChannel before it merged with DG Systems in 2006. "It's an all-software model," Roland says. "The post houses [export] right out of their editing stations into the system, and the TV stations ingest right into their automation system. It's not just an FTP site. This is a very secure system with immense storage capacity that is highly fault-tolerant."
Sinclair has used Extreme Reach extensively with good success, according to Parks. "What we like about those guys is they adhere to standards," he says.
Moreover, Extreme Reach compensates stations for using their bandwidth to support the delivery of ads through the Extreme Reach service. According to Roland, it pays stations 50 cents per each standard-def spot they receive, and $2 per HD spot. Several broadcasters say that level of compensation from Extreme Reach doesn't come close to covering their bandwidth and operational costs. But Parks disagrees. "That is a very fair business proposition," he says.
Denver-based Comcast Media Center (CMC), which encodes and transmits VOD content to headends across the country and also originates a number of cable networks, has been using its own bandwidth to electronically deliver commercials and promos to cable headends since mid-2007. Seeing a broader opportunity in the commercial distribution market, last October it spent $5 million to acquire asset-delivery firm Radiance Technologies; Radiance has patented technology for performing large data transfers over the public Internet and serves aerospace and automotive companies as well as media companies and advertising firms.
In June, CMC announced Radiance AdDelivery, a software-based system that will deliver commercials over the Internet. While CMC's ad-delivery business has primarily been limited to cable headends, it hopes that Radiance AdDelivery will attract broadcast customers as well.
"Our intent and our goal is to have every one of the broadcast stations connected up to this network, so our customers, the ad agencies and post houses can use us as an alternative to deliver content," says CMC Senior VP and COO Gary Traver. "We understand why some of these folks have gone to other alternatives [for ad delivery], and we think we have the right kind of solutions for the problems they're having."
E-mail comments to email@example.com
Stations used to support a Video Tape Library and staff to support Tape Delivery. Companies like DG and Vyvx came in with servers to eliminate the need for Tape Delivery and substantially LOWER the cost to the Stations. The cost to support Satellite File Delivery amounts to little or no savings to the Advertiser. Now that the newer distributors are asking Stations to pick up the cost of bandwidth, they hesitate due to the cost. The cost of Bandwidth has been going down substantially over the past few years. Verizon is offering 20mg downloads now, for pennies relative to the old T1 prices. Seems fair enough to ask Broadcasters to pick up some cost so that their Advertisers don't have to be taken advantage of by Satellite providers.
Jim Celentano - 8/10/2009 11:55:06 AM EDT
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