The NBC TV-station group will begin transitioning its stations to Marketron's traffic and billing system in September, with Telemundo station KMAS-TV Denver the first to make the leap. All of the group's 29 NBC and Telemundo stations are expected to be switched over by the end of 2004, when the company's contract with Encoda expires.
According to Group Director of Sales Digitization Christine Napoli, NBC was attracted chiefly by the fact that Marketron, an Application Service Provider (ASP), will provide the maintenance for NBC's traffic and billing system. "We aren't in the business of maintaining systems, and we want to get out of the IT business as much as possible," she explains. "They came in with a completely outsourced system and a disaster-recovery system that spoke to our needs."
NBC looked at 15 vendors during a nine-month period before selecting the system. NBC's traffic and billing operations are pretty much isolated, with sales assistants required to manually enter orders so that they can begin wending their way through the traffic system. The Marketron system, Napoli says, brings more fluidity to the process. "It allows for a spot to be cleared and for inventories to be pulled up without having to toggle and search for information."
The system will be used by eight to 10 employees at each station through a Web browser.
"We're putting a link between unknown inventory information and the sales people who need it," says Kristin Fechner, Marketron general manager, Hailey, Idaho, operations. "They don't even need the software application at their station."
According to Marketron CEO Mike Jackson, software updates will be handled without NBC's needing to get involved. Kicking people off the system for updates is a thing of the past, Napoli observes, because the updates will be done in the background on weekends or weeknights.
The system comprises three parts: Marketron TV Sales, Marketron TV traffic and Marketron TV Business Intelligence. The last allows sales and traffic data to be more easily visualized by setting up sales-report templates on both an individual-station and group basis.
"The general manager, traffic directors, business managers and sales people will all be able to access the system any time, any place," Jackson explains. "This interface simplifies how a station uses the system even though it's more complicated than what they've been using in the past."
Napoli finds the interface intuitive enough that users can sit down and figure out how to use it. "You can cut and slice the data any way you want."
Despite the simple interface, training will be involved. She believes it will take six to eight weeks to make sure the stations use the system properly to best meet their individual needs. Station sales departments will still handle transactions with advertising agencies through Donovan Data Systems' Media Ocean platform, which will interface with the Marketron system to fulfill traffic requirements.
Outsourcing a critical function like sales, especially when revenues total more than $1.5 billion per year, requires a great degree of faith in not only the system but its disaster-recovery capabilities. Napoli says the proposal from Marketron laying out the data integrity and backup procedures was the most impressive one submitted.
The ability to provide the level of security required by a company like NBC, Jackson says, is the result of three years of work. The hosting centers have redundancies built in, and everything is duplicated to a backup facility every 15 minutes.
Marketron can provide such depth on disaster recovery, he adds, because costs are spread out across the company's 2,500 clients. "With 29 stations, it's difficult to spend the amount of time and resources needed to have security. But we leverage those costs across all of our clients."
As for the rollout, Napoli says the non-duopoly Telemundo stations will be the first to make the move. They are using a variety of traffic systems and aren't included in the Encoda contract that expires at the end of next year. So moving them over is a priority and is expected to be completed by the end of this year. "Each will go on independently so we can learn and tweak the process as we go."