Use Case

Advanced optimisation technology for sequencing commercial breaks

The whole area cried out for advanced software technologies – instead of simply managing breaks, we are now able to find better options for the use of airtime


It is a business wrapped up in a mystique and with a language all of its own – and one where skills and experience are highly valued. For Channel 4, sequencing of commercial breaks provided a logical starting point for the use of AI technology. 

During the day, Channel 4’s strength is targeting the stay at home parent/partner whilst in the evenings audience research has identified Channel 4’s strength lies in its ability to target cluster groups. As a result the sequencing of commercials within each break has presented Channel 4 with something of a headache as advertisers seek to buy audience, not airtime. It is a complex trading commodity complicated further as the selling of this volatile medium is only closed half a day in advance of transmission time, at which point the breaks need to be sequenced.


Conventional programming could not cope with the need for additions and changes and simply putting a graphical front-end on the airtime sales system would leave it open to manual manipulation. In a quick turn around, a solution was developed for Channel 4 which involves downloading a flat file from their airtime sales system and passing an unordered list of spots in a commercial break to Xpertrule which uses genetic algorithm optimisation to ensure that all constraints are complied with before passing back the ordered information to the airtime sales system. The use of genetic algorithm techniques allows the exploration of large search spaces for optimal or near optimal solutions.

Xpertrule comment:

“Optimisation problems can be solved by iterative trial and error. But, as the number of possible combinations grows it becomes impractical to try all combinations to arrive at a solution in a reasonable time. Rule of thumb can be used to narrow down the options but, in most cases, good rules are not available or are difficult to capture.”

 “Numerical optimisation techniques are currently available in most advanced spreadsheets, but these tend to be incapable of optimising problems involving sequencing or scheduling and they are ‘exploitation’ rather than ‘exploration’ techniques. They also fail to cope with outcomes that involve subjective assessment by an expert”

The Benefits


“This system takes over much of the drudgery involved in break sequencing”


“3 people used to be wholly committed to sequencing work, whereas now it only requires 1 or 2”

Employee Satisfaction

“It is an important motivation as the work is now manageable – no longer are we working just above the waterline”

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