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Does Fox TV need a rules engine?

I was at the gym the other day (no, really) and watching TV. I'm not a TV watcher at home so the gym is the rare time I actually see any TV. As Fox Sports went to an ad break I noticed that the first ad was a diamond ad - you know, one of the big pre-Christmas "spend all your money on diamonds and you will be loved" ads. The next ad, however, was for the movie "Blood Diamond". Given that part of the reason for the big up-tick in diamond ads this year was to counter the movie, I suspected that the diamond advertiser would really have wanted their warm, fuzzy diamond, loving image overlain with an image of diamonds causing bloodshed.

So far so good, you may be thinking, but why would a rules engine help. Well it turns out that another TV network has used Blaze Advisor, Fair Isaac's business rules management system, to automate its slotting process. Slotting is the process by which ads are allocated to particular commercial breaks. This is a complex process for TV channels as they want to maximize their profit from their ad inventory while still meeting the terms of the huge number of contracts they have signed with individual companies for advertising. These contracts can have clauses like:

A diamond retailer campaign purchases a contract that stipulates that their commercials are played every hour during a particular time window with a plan to show a certain number in the month before Christmas. Additionally, no other diamond companies can advertise in the same slot and no ad for "Blood Diamond" can be shown.

On top of these overlapping contracts a typical broadcaster, especially a sports broadcaster like Fox Spots, is going to have many schedule changes and this impacts the available ad inventory. With many contracts this is going to make re-scheduling complex, especially if it is done by hand. If this process takes too long not only will the advertiser become cranky (they don't know which slots they are going to get), the sales team won't know exactly what ads it has left to sell.

If you use a rules engine to automate this process then you get a number of benefits:

  • Most good rules engines support inferencing and it turns out that this makes an ad slotting application much easier to implement
    Moving an ad causes the re-firing of all the rules to see if any other ads need to be moved as a consequence
  • The rules can be re-run any time there is a new contract or a schedule change
    This helps keep everything up to date making it easier to sell inventory and manage customer relations
  • The people who understand the contracts can also read the rules
    Part of what makes a rules engine interesting is the power it gives business users over rules
  • The rules embody the best judgment of the ad team
    Which improves the process as well as allowing the ad team to work on relationships not on mechanics

A TV channel that did this could also use the rules engine to do ad pricing (as a number of magazines have, for instance) and could bring predictive analytics to bear to predict likelihood that a slot would sell out (so as to manage pricing) and so on.

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Comments

Daniel Selman

Much as I love business rules and strongly advocate for them (!), TV ad scheduling is at its core an optimization problem (as one can tell from reading your rules). ILOG has used a combination of business rules and CPLEX for TV ad scheduling very successfully:
http://www.ilog.com/download/docs/AN-Media.pdf

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