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PC traffic systems accelerate savings

Jun 17, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Though centralcasting captures most of the attention of TV stations, more broadcasters are looking to consolidate traffic functions.
Many stations have turned to Optimal Solutions Inc., which offers a PC-based system that centralizes traffic. OSI isn’t new-it installed its first system in August 1998 for Paxson Communications and has managed the traffic, sales and programming for the network’s 65 stations since then. The St. Louis-based company treaded quietly during those four years as it fine-tuned its product. OSI added its second major customer-Telemundo-just six months ago and is in the process of installing systems with Quincy Newspapers’ TV stations and Belo Television Group.
OSI-Traffic uses a client/server model, meaning the system runs on PCs using Windows XP and material is retrieved from Compaq servers. Many traffic systems have historically relied on AS/400s, which are essentially midrange mainframes from IBM. Using development tools such as the Visual C++ programming language and Microsoft SQL-equipped servers, OSI’s system includes a graphical user interface and a relational database that is robust, expandable and allows for multichannel, multistation operations, said Ed Adams, president of OSI. With a relational database, if a user makes a change in one area of the system, all other areas that touch that data are automatically updated.
“You can do traffic operations without being there on site,” he said. “We get you off the mainframe and onto a Microsoft platform.” Eliminating the need for AS/400s reduces the total cost of ownership and alleviates the workload for information systems departments in maintaining the databases of those machines, he said.
Mr. Adams said a 10-station group could reduce the number of traffic managers from 10 to three, the number of business managers from 10 to two and the number of servers from 10 to two, since only one server is needed for backup.

That could trim hardware costs from about $600,000 to $65,000, he said. The system operates in real time, since users need to enter the information from different locations. At Paxson, more than 200 people use the system concurrently at any given time, Mr. Adams said.
Paxson has been using OSI since it went on air Aug. 31, 1998. The system was designed around the Paxson business model, since the network needed to manage sales, traffic and programming at 65 stations from the get-go. Instead of relying on 65 program directors, the company handles all the programming operations from its corporate offices in West Palm Beach, Fla., which saves about $1 million a year in staffing, said Ronnie Curtis, VP of traffic operations for Paxson. “It gives us complete control,” he said. “Without it, you don’t have a clue what’s going on. If you make a change, it can ripple across all stations.”
Telemundo has centralized operations at its three networks-Telemundo, Mun2 and Telemundo Internacional-through the installation of OSI in the past six months. The networks previously relied on Columbine from Denver-based Encoda Systems, largely recognized as the leader in traffic systems, said Darren Bondy, VP of traffic with Telemundo. Encoda provides the majority of TV stations’ traffic systems, but many of them require the use of an AS/400. The advantage of using a PC-based server rather than an AS/400 is, however, that the records don’t need to be purged every so often due to of storage space, Mr. Bondy said. Since servers can be added, storage is virtually limitless.
Quincy Newspapers, which operates 11 TV stations, has installed the OSI system at five of its stations, with a sixth installation under way. “We will be running it from our corporate headquarters,” said Ralph Oakley, VP and chief operating officer with the Quincy, Ill-based station group. “Economically, it will be better because it won’t take as many people to do the job. To really take advantage of centralization, it needs to be a relational database and PC-centric.”
Belo has rolled out the system to six of its 20 stations and expects them all to be using it by the end of the year. The relational database was the key tool in deciding to switch from three different Encoda systems across its stations to OSI, said Lee Salzberger, senior VP, administration, with Belo in Dallas.
While many of Encoda’s traffic systems contain relational databases, such a feature is perhaps one of 200 or 300 elements a client asks for in a traffic system, said David Netz, VP of marketing for Encoda.