The art and science of effective scheduling

If you carry the responsibilities of scheduling programming for your organization – or you manage someone that does – then you don’t need us to tell you how tough the job is. You live and breathe it every day. Linear or non-linear, there are a myriad of complexities, challenges and downright paradoxes that face on-air planners, day-in, day-out, as they attempt to make sense of the nonsensical. Scheduling is both an art and a science.

Take our hypothetical job advert as an example:

WANTED – one ON-AIR PLANNER. Are you….

  • Able to hold 257 pieces of conflicting information in your head at once?
  • Able to break those 257 pieces of information into 38 different categories, based on finances, content type, usage rights and seven other arbitrary and confusing criteria, which may change in a weekly basis?
  • Able to put all of those pieces of information in a particular order based on the hopes, needs, desires and legal requirements of multiple different stakeholders?
  • Able to use metrics to satisfy investors (including associated reporting), but also exercise the kind of creativity and dynamism needed to actually keep audiences engaged when watching your channel?
  • Having done all of the above, are you able to make sure the way you’ve scheduled all of the above actually matches the realities of time and space? Have you checked there are actually enough minutes in the day?
  • Are you able to do all of this to incredibly tight deadlines, and make changes at a moment’s notice?
  • Are you able to do this day-in, day-out, with incredible levels of mundane repetition, without ever slipping up or making a single mistake?

The point we are trying to make is – media scheduling is tough. Seriously tough. It involves the consideration of so many different elements – both quantitative and qualitative, and such a sheer quantity of data, that it is almost entirely unrealistic to expect one person alone to manage it – or even a few of them coordinating all their interests, expectations and decisions.

There has to be a better way

The solution? A software system, accessible anywhere, by anyone, that takes the hard work out of the scheduling process.

And that is exactly what VSN has developed with VSNCrea. Built from an inherent and practiced understanding of the complexities involved in broadcasting scheduling, the browser-based VSNCrea system aims to maximize the way in which the entire process can be both automated and validated – providing structures that automatically flag-up conflicts; be these based on timing, content type, consistency and continuity, broadcast rights, financial brackets or a whole host of other data types.

Let us give you some examples of how VSNCrea makes life easier.

Clarity and Ease of Use

VSNCrea is, first and foremost, designed to be clear, intuitive and usable. A GUI based on colour coded content, easily-navigable tabs and drop downs, and a clear and logical workflow that – behind the scenes – all ties together. Data entered into one area of the system is automatically transferred to all other relevant areas, informing the way the whole schedule is coordinated. With VSNCrea, one click does the work of a hundred.

Full metadata control to improve schedule quality and accuracy

Within each tab of the system – including Catalogue, Acquisitions, Advertising and Broadcast, the user has the ability to quickly and easily set metadata and parameters for each catalogue element. The level of metadata that can be set runs deep, but is quick and easy to apply – meaning that complex elements can be managed simply.

It is this level of metadata control that is fundamental to the brilliance of VSNCrea – because it allows for scheduling to be undertaken with a much greater degree of specificity and coordination. Matching content schedule elements using underlying complimentary themes or viewing components gives the viewer a more fulfilling and enjoyable experience, maximizing the value they gain from loyal viewership. And as importantly, matching content components with key advertising messages also maximizes the value that advertisers see from their advertising slots.

Moreover, the use of underlying metadata doesn’t merely improve the quality of the schedule produced – it makes it more accurate, and minimizes the possibility of potentially disastrous and costly mistakes.

For instance, all content – advertising, acquisitions or catalogue elements, can be loaded with the full details of its broadcast rights and contract information. This might include the number of repeats allowed for each episode, or the date up until which the rights expire. Any attempt to schedule a piece of content in a way that contradicts the underlying contractual rules that have been assigned to the entity automatically triggers a warning, requiring deliberate override from the user in order to continue.

And this process of error-avoidance is not only limited to contractual usage rights. The user can set up ‘boxes’ that allocate different values to different timeslots – primetime, children’s, etc. These boxes are fully customizable. Catalogue elements are then also marked accordingly, and it becomes impossible (without user override) to schedule a violent movie in children’s hour, or a low-paying advert in the primetime section. Adverts can also be sorted by content, so that two adverts of the same type (for instance, Fanta and Coke) won’t appear in the same segment.

The value of ‘automatic error avoidance’ is huge: it avoids financial mistakes, legal disputes and reputational risks. All automatically, without any extra expenditure of time or money from the scheduler.

Automation for speed and accuracy

Speed of use in scheduling is key – there are huge quantities of programming to be loaded, with microsecond accuracy, across a great range of channels. Many of these tasks are repetitive, but with the need for slight modifications or adjustments. The task is therefore both tedious but highly pr

VSNCrea integrates a number of automation techniques to make the entire process faster and more accurate. Templates for the day’s programming can be created and reused – with colour coded slots to indicate what content should be added. Alternatively, whole days can simply be duplicated. Serialised TV shows can be automatically scheduled for a new episode to occur week-by-week, and duplicated where needed – it only takes one click. Adverts can be blocked together in pre-approved sequences, and simply dropped in as a whole.

Each catalogue element can be pre-set in multiple formats – using different timecodes to create segments and ad breaks. This means, for instance, that you can have the same TV series ready to run episodes with no breaks, three ad breaks and five ad breaks, depending on the time of day it is set to be shown. No need to program the segmentation for each individual scheduling instance, just drop in your pre-set.

And of course, as you’d expect, the catalogue is completely searchable based on keywords, without necessarily needing to know the nature or content type of the entity being sought. Full find-and-replace functionality means making changes is easy.

Easy monitoring and reporting

The wealth of data and control embodied with VSNCrea makes it a perfect tool for reporting too.

First and foremost, the columns displaying programming data are entirely customizable by the user, showing them exactly what they need at a mere glance. And every scheduled day can be toggled to display areas of gap and overlap – since accurate timing is of course the number one priority in scheduling.

In addition, AsRun logs identify what has actually been broadcast, so this means that the broadcast content can be checked against what has been scheduled – allowing for error identification across the wider broadcasting chain.

AsRun data also informs about billing and reporting outputs for advertisers – showing exactly how and when adverts were placed, and what the resultant cost associated with this is. This can be presented in dashboards through a number of visual and graph formats – and audience metrics can even be integrated where downstream broadcast partners are able to share this kind of reporting capability.

Moreover – as a system accessible by multiple users from diverse locations across the globe (made possible by the fact that the system is HTML5-based), it is possible to log and track the actions of each scheduler whilst increasing communication and accountability.

Maximum interoperability

First and foremost, the VSNCrea system runs seamlessly with all other VSN systems – including the MAM Explorer. All data entered into VSNCrea is concomitantly added to or altered within connected systems. Again, this doesn’t just save time, but it reduces the significant risk of error that comes with the manual duplication of data and information. Full, seamless integration throughout the entire VSN chain.

In addition though, using API the VSNCrea system has been designed to maximize its interoperability with third party external MCR systems, as well as production of EPGs in a number of different formats and standards. When you consider this interoperability on top of the cloud-based, multi-user, access-anywhere nature of the system, there are few scheduling software applications that can provide such incredible levels of flexibility.

Future Proofed OTT scheduling

The VSNCrea system will also soon be integrating full OTT scheduling capabilities, taking the very same expertise that we have gained in the world of traditional linear broadcast scheduling, and building upon this further to accommodate the peculiarities and specifics associated with non-linear scheduling. As always, integrating the same level of intuitiveness, automation and error-control that mark the VSNCrea system above its competitors.

In addition, the product is also available under a SAAS model that further enhances the flexibility that customers have when engaging with the system.

The bottom-line benefit

Broadcast is becoming more and more competitive, and scheduling is becoming more and more complex. There are more channels, more content, and more models of operation than ever before. Maintaining competitive advantage means scheduling content that your viewers want, with unwavering reliability. No gaps, no errors, no conflicts: day-in, day-out.

Quite simply, VSNCrea makes this easier and more efficient than ever. By digging down into the science of scheduling, VSNCrea allows schedulers to practice their discipline more artfully.

So you can put that crazy job advert in the bin, because VSNCrea is about to make your scheduler’s live a whole lot simpler.

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