January 24, 2001, 1:13 PM — LONDON -- You need only travel London's rail system for a few days to get bored with the static advertising pasted all around.
Angling to provide relief is rBuzz, a media-management company in Baltimore, which is tapping unlikely helper Unisys to liven up such advertising venues.
"We're taking static billboards and making them fresh," says Mike Thorby, vice president of global technology at rBuzz. "We're also helping advertisers to maximize real estate."
The 2-year-old company supplies ads to thousands of billboards, automated teller machines and kiosks in the U.S., U.K., Australia and Canada. The company gathers information from advertisers and media creators by hand and then enters that information into a database, which sends ads to the network of displays.
But Thorby and his team want to automate the process.
Thorby called on Unisys, known previously for its low-end servers, to help create a comprehensive content management system that could handle all types of media, including video and sound files, animation and high-end graphics. Unisys offered its Active Content Gateway, which works in conjunction with the Oracle 8i database.
The Active Content Gateway, which rBuzz is testing for a December worldwide release, has three main components: a customer portal, a central database and an automatic publishing tool. The portal lets advertising agencies check demographics for traffic around each rBuzz international video display sites. Advertisers can then schedule times for their ads to run, and receive information about pricing.
Media creators can use the portal to upload ads into the database and to supply the file type, size and details about the ad campaign.
They can also query the database to find information about the sites. RBuzz's ad team is alerted by e-mail that new copy has been entered into the database. They then run quality checks on the data and make sure it adheres to the company's standards.
Finally, the ad team puts the materials back in the database, and the ads are distributed around the world to thousands of displays on the firm's net.
"Building a system from scratch would have taken us years," Thorby says. He also considered buying services from companies such as BroadVision, but wanted the system on-site. "Unisys was the only one that wasn't completely Internet-based and let us have control."
Two years ago, Unisys conceded defeat in the low-end server market.
"We realized we couldn't compete with Hewlett-Packard and Compaq," says Paul Bevan, director of strategic marketing for Unisys in the U.K. "So we went back to the drawing board."