If you look at the future of broadcasting as a contest between us (broadcasters) and them (streaming-media-only providers) then it would seem the game is ours to lose. After all, we have a built-in audience; a familiar way to promote the additional service to our established audience; and of course we already have the technical infrastructure in place to generate the program source for the stream.
If you already work with streaming media you know the online audience, while not as large as the over-the-air audience, is growing rapidly. Unlike our over-the-air audience (which costs the same to service whether one person listens or 1 million people listen) the online audience costs more and more as its size grows. (It may cost less on a per-stream basis, but it does cost more, nonetheless.) Naturally, then, we need to seek a means by which we can not only cover the extra costs associated with streaming, but perhaps (in time) even make a profit.
At least one way to do that is to use the familiar model we've been using: Sell spots on the stream that are different than what goes over the air. There are several different ways to accomplish this. First, I'll detail how we do it here at Clear Channel NYC where everything is done in-house. Then I'll discuss a hybrid approach -- selling the ads in-house but using Ando Media software to integrate the ad-blocks smoothly. Finally, I'll look at how Liquid Compass and Ando Media work in conjunction to provide streaming audio ad insertion.
Doing it all yourself
One way of handling ad insertion over streaming media is to do it all yourself -- and this is the way it is done inside the Clear Channel system.
Figure 1. Handle all streaming ad insertion using a sound card such as the Orban Optimod-PC 1100 (or 1101). (Click image to enlarge.)
We have five FM stations here in New York, and each has about a half-dozen streams associated with it. Some of those streams are for desktop users and some are for mobile platforms (see "Streaming to Mobile Devices" in the April 2010 edition of Radio magazine). One computer is used for multiple purposes; it runs a log (using Nexgen from RCS) made solely of spot blocks to play over the streams. That same computer also houses an important sound card -- the Orban Optimod-PC 1100 (or PC1101). This sound card is really the heart of the system, because it allows for the playback of the streaming-media spot blocks, and it processes the audio as well (ahead of all the various encoders). Figure 1 shows how this is done.
The streaming server CPU (that houses the Orban sound card) operates as a slave to the Nexgen server used for playback over the associated radio station. When a spot block starts, that slave machine is signaled (via our LAN) to play the spot block sent as streaming media, as opposed to over-the-air. A small routine called SB_Play is used on the slave machine to tell the Orban card to switch its direct mixer output from the source coming in on digital input 1 (which comes from our router, and is basically a copy of the on-air program) to the WAV out input, which is the actual source of the spot audio for stream use only.
The output of the direct mixer is then routed (internally on the Orban card) to the digital out, and thereafter an AES version of the direct mixer is available for use. From there, the signal is routed to a PPM encoder, and then back to digital input 2 of the Orban card. The digital 2 input goes through the process mixer and then to the audio processing section of the Orban card. The output of the processing section is routed back to the WAV in input, and back to the PCI bus where it becomes available for use on all the streaming encoders operating in that same machine. All the various streaming encoders make use of the same program feed.
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