In this method each system publishes a file to a file server. At a scheduled time, or on demand, each system looks for the other system''s file and imports the information.
Your phone rings at 8:09 a.m. You keep typing to finish entering cart 794 before answering the call. Another ring and you are still filling in the fields: Advertiser Name, Spot Title, Spot Length. You save the record and grab the phone. It's traffic and they have a big late-add that has to run today. You make the trek to traffic's network of cubes and work it out, but then they want to go over a few make goods from the day before. You sigh as you set down your cup of coffee…
If this scenario sounds familiar then I'd like to share with you a trend that will make your work easier. Several years ago, a new technology called Web services began to make headway in software architecture. The technology leverages the same mechanisms used by Web browsers and Web servers to allow systems to more easily communicate and share data. Web services have proven extremely useful and are now considered to be mainstream software architecture.
They have also found their way into radio stations. The history of traffic and on-air software packages reflect how traffic and on-air departments are typically organized. These software packages have grown as separate silos and are usually provided by different vendors. This isn't bad — it allows vendors to specialize in areas in which they are good.
But these systems need to talk to each other. In the past, daily exchanges of flat files for logs and as played information were used. Modern software packages, such as Viero RMS (traffic and billing) and RCS Nexgen (on-air playback), now provide support for information exchange via Web services. RMS and Nexgen both have large installed bases and currently there are more than 1,000 radio stations where information is exchanged via Web services rather than traditional flat files. The use of this technology in radio is now well established.
In this method, each system maintains a set of Web service interfaces on a Web server for the other system to call. As needed, each system sends messages to the other system''s Web service interfaces.
The power of Web services
Web services are a powerful technology because of their openness and flexibility. Web service messaging is firewall friendly, easing communication between even geographically distributed systems. The open standards used in Web services help bridge communication between vendors using different development technologies. Data encoding and hierarchical structures allow any kind of data to be represented, including very complex representations of complete business records. And Web services offer a more dynamic method of interoperation than traditional flat files.
This approach enables a much richer and more dynamic interopration capability allowing each system to more actively participate in and support the other's function. This means smarter and more efficient software that allows users to get their work done faster. I began by highlighting some typical frustrations experienced by radio station staff: duplicate data entry, late-adds and make goods. The good news is that these issues are being tackled. Below are the capabilities in Viero RMS that ease these issues. Currently, RCS Nexgen has full support for all of these features.
Duplicate data entry. Viero RMS communicates in real-time with the on-air system to provide needed data, such as advertiser name, spot title, etc, eliminating double data entry. If anything is updated in the on-air system, such as a change in spot title, the correlating update is also made in the traffic system — automatically and in real time without human intervention. This is a time saver for both departments.
Late-adds. Support is built into the platform for electronically getting a spot over to the on-air system and into the schedule up to 15 minutes prior to air time. This capability is currently used by another product, Viero Transact, which uses Web services to manage national buys across a broadcast enterprise. The user interface components to leverage this capability within the traffic system have not been developed yet, but are targets for the near future.
Make goods. What if make goods could be handled automatically? Make goods are a manual chore for traffic staff. In the world of Web services the as played information is sent to the traffic system within seconds after a spot airs, or doesn't air. This feature, known as Near Real Time Verification is currently in production. It allows traffic to take immediate action, and enables a broader time frame to work reconciliation. In the future this feature will trigger the traffic system's scheduling engine to automatically reschedule the spot. This will be tied in with the late add capability to get the spot back on the air the same day.
The bridge between the systems is a Web server capable of running Web services built by the different vendors. In most cases that will mean a Windows-based Web server running Microsoft's Internet Information Server (IIS). IIS actually hosts the Web services and passes the messages back and forth. This does not need to be a very expensive machine because the real processing still happens in each system, and the Web server is simply moving messages back and forth between the systems. In the past there would typically be a file server in-between that both systems would write files to and read files from. The new model uses a Web server instead.
Over time, Web services, related technologies and the platforms they enable will fundamentally change software used in radio for the better. We are in the very early stages of seeing what these technologies will do for radio but as time passes more opportunities will be seen and more vendors will begin to participate as market pressures increase demand for efficiency. Radio will continue to seek new ways of enhancing revenue and as new channels for advertising continue to expand, such as additional streaming and HD Radio offerings, workloads for station staff will likewise increase. The software vendors who recognize this and add value in the form of increased efficiencies will be valued by broadcasters. This is an exciting time for our industry and a great time to be developing improved solutions for broadcasters.
Ferry is senior VP of software development, LAN International.