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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Spotlight Article: How Commercials Get On the Air - Part 2

Last time, I discussed how the commercials you see on the air are physically made in the production phase. (If you missed part I, CLICK HERE). The second half of this series examines how the finished product gets put into our system and gets on the air. & into your homes.

In our tape room, we have an engineer whose job is to take the ready made commercials and get them into the playback commercial server. Commercials come to the station through a variety of a physical tape, off a satellite, or downloaded over dedicated advertising networks.

From there, the commercials are "ingested" or downloaded into our playback system - it's a huge video server that not only handles commercials, but also records many of the syndicated programming you see on Channel 3 like "Entertainment Tonight," "Dr. Phil," & "Rachel Ray" since these shows are not done live and are delivered to the station usually off the satellite earlier in the day, or several days before they air.

Upstairs, we have a traffic department who are the schedulers of the commercials breaks. (In a broadcast environment, this traffic deparment is not associated with the traffic departments who handle roadway conditions).

Once the account executive places an order for a commercial to run, it must be computer scheduled. Advertisers will buy specific shows or certain time periods during which their commercials must run. Higher rated time periods command higher advertising rates. This all must be carefully handled to make sure the spots run properly. If not, the TV station could lose money - and possibly an advertiser.

Once the traffic department completes their play lists - a daily log of every commercial to air down to the second. This play list is sent electronically to our Master Control area where it is downloaded into the Playback Controller each day.

It becomes the Master Control Operator's duty to follow the commercial log to the second by electronically inserting the commercials where they belong at the appropriate times. Each show has its own time sheet of segment lengths. So, basically the entire broadcast day is charted out minute by minute.

Several commercials air in each break - as you well know. A show may call for 2 minutes worth of commercials. Each show has different break times and lengths. And commercials according to the available windows in each show. Commercials are generally :30 in length, but can be :04, :05, :10, :15 and in some unusual cases, a full minute (those are rare).

Once the break concludes, the Master Control operator will electronically switch back from the commercial server to the program server as the show resumes. During the newscasts, the Directors will give Master Control a cue to roll the breaks - the term we use at Channel 3 is "execute."

Now back to the old days, specifically when WKYC was located at East 6th in the old East Ohio Building - which is now rumored to become a hotel soon. Commercials were cued up manually - one at a time and played directly off huge 1" or 2" tape machines. Later on, those 1" tapes were dubbed on a format called MII (two). During the MII days, master control was run by an automation system, robotically controlled.

All the tapes were loaded in the machine for that broadcast day the night before. The computer would talk to two robots that would pull the tapes out of their home slots, insert them into the tape machines - the machines would cue up on the spot based on time code (a time system that used in broadcasting that tape machines can read). The commercials would play, the machines would eject the tapes, then the robots would return them to their holding locations. (See Picture)

Today, it's all server based. I think of it as a big old I-Pod, that runs through a play list. This is how the commercials are currently getting on the air - it's all played from a hard drive computer.

In the third part of the series, we'll take a look at how we are playing both SD and HD commercials back to back.

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