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Clearing TV spots at Internet speed

Feb 25, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Shepherding a television advertising spot through the network clearance process used to require a swift-footed messenger, an overnight delivery service, faxes, phone calls and lots of hoping that everything got where it was supposed to-intact and on time.
About five years ago, before fast Internet connections were common, a committee of representatives of law firms, advertising agencies and the networks got together at the American Association of Advertising Agencies Management Conference to see if they could figure out how to deliver ad spots electronically to the people who needed to sign off. Jeff Edelstein, partner at Hall, Dickler Kent, Goldstein & Wood, a New York City law firm specializing in advertising and marketing law, was part of the group. Mr. Edelstein recalls that they looked over several proposals, and none of them seemed very practical, so the idea was shelved.
Now electronic delivery is about to become the way everybody does business, with at least one company already up and running and another giving demos that seem to have impressed the industry.
The approval process can be rigorous. The networks try to avoid broadcasting ads that might make false or misleading claims. So an advertiser who makes a competitive statement has to provide supporting information along with the spot. And if there’s any doubt, all the material must go not only to the network but also to the attorneys involved.
DG Systems, which specializes in digital management of all kinds, introduced NetClear Sept. 1. It allows users to digitally submit, manage, track and review ads right from their desktops. Users can also view video, open and read documents, and insert further material and comments.
Bob Howard, VP of marketing, said the hardest thing about getting the product off the ground was getting the relatively small community of networks, lawyers and ad agencies to agree to give the method a try and install the necessary software. Obviously, the product is pretty much worthless unless a substantial percentage of the potential users agree and follow through.
Initially, events overshadowed DG’s sales effort, but the anthrax scare that followed Sept. 11 made everyone involved in the ad-approval process more willing to take a look. Since then, Mr. Howard said, the company has signed up CBS, ABC, The WB and Telemundo in addition to 22 major ad agencies, including GSD&M, Crispin Porter & Bogusky and Barber Martin Advertising. He estimates that’s about half the potential major players.
Meanwhile, a competitor has been stealthily making sales calls. Kenneth Bernstein, owner of MediaVu LLC, based in Encino, Calif., said his clearance product is going through final beta tests and will be up and running shortly. “We believe we have a very unique system that has been developed and patented,” he said.
Mr. Bernstein declined to say anything more, but attorney Mr. Edelstein, who saw a demonstration, said it “really blew everyone away with the technology-tremendous clarity and very fast.”
Whatever system is ultimately adopted, the industry is clearly ready. Harvey Dzodin, VP of commercial standards for ABC, said, “We’ve been approached by a number of different companies offering these kinds of services, and while we don’t endorse any particular company, we do endorse the concept. Getting commercials over the Internet will save advertisers and ABC time and money.”
He also sees an Internet-based system as being good for the environment because it doesn’t consume tapes and paper. “You should see the number of tapes we throw out each week. It’s heartbreaking, really,” he said.
Mr. Dzodin cited the two biggest concerns as being security-nobody wants confidential material to fall into the wrong hands-and just getting the data past a variety of computer system security firewalls.
“We’re willing to experiment with agencies on the electronic delivery of video, but everybody has to comply with our [information system] guidelines,” Mr. Dzodin said.