Wednesday, May 30, 2007

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

One of the most important parts of a television station is the commercials. After all, the commercials are what pays for the programming you see on WKYC. Expenses for a TV station are quite high including salaries for staff, costs of buying syndicated programming, basic operating costs and other expenses that it takes to run any business.

But exactly what is the path that a commercial takes from conception to getting on the air? Let's explore the different aspects of advertising beginning this week in a multi-part series.

We have a highly seasoned sales force at WKYC that goes out into the community and actively solicits businesses to spend their advertising dollars with our TV station. Locally, this is a multi-million dollar industry which is not only sliced among the local TV stations, but also satellite and cable TV, newspapers, radio and other emerging technologies including the Internet. We are constanlty competing for advertising dollars on many different battlefronts all at once. And that pie is getting sliced into more pieces every year, especially with a fragile local economy where businesses have either been closing, moving out of town or reducing the amount of money they spend on advertising.

Advertising is as old as the broadcasting business itself. Sometimes, the businesses will seek us out because of specific programs we offer that match the viewers they are specifically targeting (called demographics). But, it is usually the other way around when you deal with businesses on a local level.

Once the client makes a "buy" with us, we must either receive their pre-recorded commercial or we must work with them to shoot & edit a new "spot" (the jargon for a commercial) using our in-house production facilities. While we don't do a lot of commercial shoots at WKYC, we have enough to keep us busy.

For those we must shoot, a script is first prepared & approved by an advertiser or an agency they hire specifically to handle their commercials. We then assign a photographer and producer to either head to a client's business location or to bring that client to the TV station where we can use our own facilities.

The footage is shot and must be edited. This includes adding graphics like phone numbers, sound effects that get your attention and other effects to make the commercial stand out among all the others.

This whole process can be done fairly quickly, as we have an editor who does nothing but edit commercials all day long. In the old days, this involved literally cutting pieces of film together to make the final product. Today, the video is all ingested onto a hard drive and edited using expensive digital editing software that can do really remarkable things.

Finally the spot is finished and the advertiser decides on a schedule with our traffic department. This will be a pre-determined agreement between WKYC and the advertiser of when their commercials will air. Commercial rates vary based on the time of day and by program. We can charge more for higher rated shows which is why the sweeps periods are so important in May and November. For example, our 2006 ratings helped WKYC bring in revenues in the mid- $40 million range last year.

Once the business end of the process is complete, the finished commerical must be put into our video playback server called "Louth" to get it on the air. This part of the process will be discussed next time here on the Director's Cut Blog.