Standards sought for electronic ad sales

Oct 8, 2001  •  Post A Comment

The dream of a paperless back office for the television advertising industry at the local station level took one long step toward reality last week in Manhattan when representatives from some of the nation’s largest advertising agencies and rep firms and major electronic data transfer vendors agreed on “data elements” to be used in setting proposed EDI standards.
EDI would allow agency buyers, sales reps and individual stations to buy and sell TV time through computers and the Internet.
“As we streamline the back-office operations,” said Television Bureau of Advertising President Christopher Rohrs, “it opens up the possibility of more professional buying and selling.”
The creation of the agreed-upon proposed standards should come by the end of this year, according to several of the organizers and the meeting participants. Then, if adoption by the vendors goes “extremely well, I would expect to see some significant differences [in how business is transacted] by the end of next year,” said David Prager, chief information officer for the Katz Media Group.
The current state of the media economy makes the adoption of EDI that much more attractive, Mr. Prager said. “In a bad economy, everybody wants to cut costs,” and EDI will cut both paperwork and processing costs in the back office.
The key requirements for EDI, according to TVB’s Standards task force, are a universal transaction identifier (which would exist over and above any individual company’s internal identifier), a transmission number, standardized header information and standardized order and make-good data formats. They also include the introduction of broadcast instructions and discrepancy formats to standardize transmissions from the agency to the sales side and modifications to the electronic invoice standard of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, to add so-called “missing” fields to the present document.
The formulation and general acceptance of EDI will allow the participants in TV time sales to communicate electronically the “avail” process, the order process, the change process and the billing cycle, said Kathy Crawford, executive VP, Initiative Media. “Do we want the buyer spending time with discreps?” Ms. Crawford asked, “[or] do we want the buyer to be an expert on your stations,” and spend more time evaluating sports, specials and promotions.
Implementation of EDI, she said, is the way to substantially reduce the time spent in unproductive paperwork. “Gone will be what I will euphemistically [call] … the `missing’ invoice,” she said. “The bottom line to all this is that Wall Street has said to us [that] we must do it better, smarter, more effectively. We need to improve the process, cut down the discreps, all of which really actually means that we have to stop the paper.”
Transaction technology providers at the meeting seemed generally enthusiastic about the prospect of agreed-upon standards, despite their own competition issues that those standards will have to address, and representatives from several firms signed on for subcommittee work during the next phase.
“I think we’re there,” said Michael Lotito, CEO of New York-based MediaPort. “I can’t imagine that anyone wouldn’t want to help out, to make sure the standards happen as quickly as we can make them happen.”
The meeting was attended by approximately 60 people crowded into a conference room with seats for half that number at Initiative Media’s midtown headquarters; they were joined by approximately 10 people from Los Angeles via a conference call. Representatives at the meeting were from the Katz Media Group, Petry Television, Mediavest, Saatchi & Saatchi, BBDO, Rubin Postaer, Zenith Media, Tribune, Hearst-Argyle Television, Univision, NBC and others.
Information about the EDI initiative is available at TVB’s Web site, www. tvb.org.