BXF: A Work-in-Progress

Integration work between traffic and automation still required for Broadcast eXchange Format protocol
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Faster Traffic Pattern for 2010

As the advertising market starts to rebound, providers of
the software used to schedule commercials are also looking for an upturn in
their business. As they prepare for the NAB
convention in Las Vegas this spring, traffic vendors are seeking new business
with upgraded systems that feature better reporting and analytics tools, new
support for selling advertisements on digital platforms and better integration
with automation systems. More...

For the past few years, traffic and automation vendors have extolled the
virtues of Broadcast eXchange Format (BXF), a data-exchange and messaging
protocol that is designed to allow traffic systems to communicate seamlessly
with master control automation. The goal of BXF is to make it easier for
traffic departments to handle late orders from the sales staff by having an ad
placed into the traffic system schedule flow automatically into the station
automation system. Instead of making those last-minute changes manually, which
is prone to errors, the computerized data exchange of BXF should ensure that
the right information gets to master control, billing and other affected parts
of the plant.

But while BXF holds great promise, vendors says the technology's adoption by
stations has been relatively slow. For example, to date Harris has only
implemented BXF with Telemundo, which has been live with the technology for
about a year. Patrick says that the company's "Live Update" product
for OSi-Traffic, which enables live logging capability between OSi-Traffic and
Harris' ADC and D-Series products, is just
coming out of beta testing and not yet going to market, though OSi does have
integrations with other automation vendors.

"BXF is still in the early stages, but we're getting more adoption of
it," says John Patrick, Harris' product director for North American media.
"Groups are definitely putting our OSI
/ADC integration, our ‘Live Update' product,
into a test environment and looking at it. We expect more adoption as we go
into 2010."

Eric Mathewson, CEO of traffic market leader WideOrbit, says that BXF still
has a long way to go. He notes that BXF is not a strict standard, but instead a
framework within which two systems can talk to each other. And like ice cream,
he says, "It comes in a jillion different flavors." That means
WideOrbit still has to perform a custom integration with each specific automation
system to support BXF, much as it has in the past to transmit flat data files
of the traffic log to automation systems.

Man-Months to Man-Years

The big difference is that the customization required with BXF is more
laborious, because the level of data being passed back and forth is more
complex. The scripting language that WideOrbit had initially developed for the
output of its logs is easily customizable for integrating with third-party
systems, says Mathewson, and a typical customization with an automation vendor
might take WideOrbit's engineering team from six to 15 hours.

In comparison, the "scale of effort to create a BXF integration is
man-months to man-years," he says. "It takes a lot of time, because
there's a lot more to it, and a lot more information being passed back and
forth." And in addition to more initial work in integration, Mathewson
also expects that BXF will require more ongoing work as systems are updated.

That said, WideOrbit has been actively working with Harris and other automation
vendors on BXF protocols, and Mathewson expects tangible improvement in that
process this year.

"We believe that having a live log, which is the goal of BXF, does
provide some real advantages to broadcasters," he says. "But it also
provides some real challenges compared to how the workflow is accomplished
today. Right now, you finalize the log the day before your broadcast day. In a
live log, you don't have that finalization process, so you have to create a
final hurdle to make that happen. There's a lot of coding that needs to happen
between the traffic system and automation system."

Mathewson believes that BXF is eventually going to be widely adopted, but he
doesn't know of any traffic vendor today who is running true live-log
functionality with an automation system in the field.

"That goes to show how challenging it is," he says.

VCI Solutions, which like Harris makes
both traffic and automation software, still believes firmly in BXF. The
Springfield, Mass.-based company even hosted the BXF 2.0 kickoff event last
June, which drew 8 to 10 companies. But company CEO Sarah Foss also thinks that
BXF is "still oversold" in terms of the changes it can bring to
station operations.

"As an industry, we haven't implemented BXF as rapidly as the customer
base expected us to," she says.

VCI has had a few customers "who
have pushed us to do BXF integrations," says Foss, particularly since most
of VCI's Orion traffic customers use
automation from another vendor. But overall, BXF adoption has been slow. As a
company, VCI has been focused on deploying
its new comprehensive broadcast management system, Verity, where automation
functionality is "subsumed into business rules," she adds.

In general, Foss believes there is better integration between automation and
traffic than in 2006, but that it's not widely spread. She also notes that
smaller local TV markets or start-up cable networks are more likely to rely on
people than automation.

"There are markets that still cost-effectively solve problems with
people," says Foss.

Bob Lamb, chief technology officer for Pilat Media, is more bullish and says
BXF is starting to have a positive effect on the traffic software business.

"It's created a tighter integration between traffic and
automation," says Lamb. "BXF has helped a lot because it's a standard
interface. For Pilat, we probably have 50 different interfaces with automation.
But with BXF, we have less."

Lamb says BXF should make it easier for a traffic department to make late
changes, such a watching a certain sequence of ads for a major sporting event
like the Super Bowl based on who the winner is. Reconciliation is also much
easier because the IBMS system is not dealing with a "days-old log,"
he adds.

ePort: Farther Along But a Ways to Go

Another new technology initiative for the TV advertising business, the
Television Bureau of Advertising's electronic transaction portal ePort, is
farther along than BXF. ePort, which is funded by local stations and designed
to eliminate paperwork in the spot-buying process, launched in 2007. As of the
close of 2009, it had been used to book some $584 million in sales volume after
a big boost in the fourth-quarter. Over 127,000 orders have been sent by 150
agencies/advertisers via ePort to over 1,000 TV stations and all of the
national rep firms since it launched. But traffic vendors say that ePort also
has yet to have a major impact on the business.

"That's another industry-led effort that still has a ways to go,"
says Foss. She says the software system to support ePort isn't complete, and
ePort hasn't yet really changed the workflow.

"Stations are not implementing it because the industry hasn't asked for
it yet," says Foss. "Sales staff and advertisers haven't moved to the
new system. So despite the bravado around ePort, it isn't being implemented."

Patrick says that Harris customers are gradually starting to adopt the TVB
system.

"We're starting to see folks not only put in store-and-forward
capability, but also have the contact data coming through," says Patrick.
"We're committed as a product line to ePort and getting full functionality
deployed. We have two-way communication on the road map, scheduled in the OSi
8.0 release. That will be available in the summer timeframe."

WideOrbit's Mathewson applauds TVB "for moving forward with ePort and
trying to drive the industry toward a solution," and says that WideOrbit
has invested over a million dollars to make its traffic software
ePort-compliant. But he says that if you drill down into the business that's
been booked through the system so far, it's a "relatively small subset of
players doing ePort transactions." Mathewson says the vast majority of
ePort buys have been made by agency Horizon Media, which uses software from
Strata Marketing, the same company that developed the ePort system for TVB.

"We support the ePort standard," says Mathewson. "But it's
not a complete standard of what needs to happen."

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