At a conference on online media trading a couple of years back,
there was an interruption from the floor during one of the afternoon
'I came here to find out about trading,' the guy who'd stood up at the
back shouted. 'I've been here all day and all I've heard anything about
is online administration.'
The heckler wasn't the only one to feel frustrated and confused about
this - and that's undoubtedly the fault of all those visionaries and
evangelists who raised so many false expectations in the late 90s. The
analogy was, as always, with the City and the talk was about how the
media marketplace could have its very own version of the Big Bang - the
share trading revolution where all the cumbersome phonecalls and
paperwork were dropped and transactions were instead done on screen.
The market was ready. And if it wasn't, it should be. After all, the
internet was now part of our lives and even if the medium's
business-to-consumer credentials were flimsy, no-one doubted its
potential as a business-to-business tool, especially in the areas of
logistics, distribution and commodity trading.
Well, it didn't happen. Media inventory isn't a commodity in quite the
same way that platinum or pork bellies or stocks and shares are
Media inventory is perishable and the vendor has to manage the commodity
right up to the point where it is broadcast or distributed.
Isn't it strange, then, that online media trading companies still appear
to be with us? Not really, Andy Troullides, the managing director of
Optimad-iMediapoint, says. 'The last year has been one gigantic learning
I guess it's fair to say that our arrival on the media scene catalysed a
great deal of excitement and debate. General opinion was that it wasn't
a question of if, but when transacting media online was going to start
But, according to Troullides, although many media owners were quick to
embrace the vision, buyers were much more cautious. So the proposition
changed. The new focus was on allowing media agencies to brief-out their
specific requirements, one on one, to media owners online. The system
allowed business to be concluded confidentially and securely through a
single, time-saving channel.
Troullides adds: 'Some strands of the press market, especially business
press, are the most complex, fragmented and ultimately time-consuming
types of media to transact and administrate. That's why the majority of
our agency users have so far concentrated on these sectors. Saving time
is a pretty high priority in any business nowadays. When the means to
achieve it sits on your own desk, it doesn't get better than that.'
Other prominent companies in this sector include Adazzle and MediaTel's
Media Trader, though a year ago there were more than ten. In view of the
hype a few years back, the survivors all seem to envisage a modest role
for themselves, don't they? Is this just about business press? Maybe
not, as it happens - Optimad-iMediapoint is developing a partnership
with Blade, outdoor media's largest buying point, to develop a service
covering ambient media.
Steve Wilson, Blade's chief executive, states: 'We have to be prepared
to be open-minded about the way forward. Ambient is an area that is
bitty and less well organised than other outdoor sectors and there is a
crying need for more information. We have a huge resource here in terms
of market information on ambient and, in effect, we are now offering
that to the world. The thing about ambient is that there may be 500
opportunities out there at any one time - the idea is that there will be
a searchable directory of what's available. We will get the media owners
to maintain it.'
And for Wilson being open-minded also extends to possible future roles
for operations like this. 'The truth is that we are still at the start
of a communications revolution and industries and organisations are
always very good at moving forwards. But management attitudes are
improving, there is no doubt about that, and there is a greater
determination to use technology to improve business efficiency. In
facilitating that, people and industries will have to come together.
There is an awareness of what the potential is and the reality is that
it will happen. Business will find a way to communicate better and it
will change the nature of relationships. There is no textbook for this.
The learning is being done by the people prepared to take the
And at least one client, COI Communications, has been experimenting with
placing a brief online. Its head of media, Jeremy Found, states: 'I
think the placing of some briefs with media owners can be done more
quickly this way. We're still at the testing and evaluation stage but it
looks as if it could be a useful tool for us. We're looking for ideas
beyond pure media placement and it is interesting to see the ideas that
have been generated so far. We will be evaluating those and judging
whether the exercise delivers added value.'
But what do buyers think? Is this very much a fringe proposition? Is it
likely to remain that way? Steve Goodman, the group press director of
MediaCom, comments: 'A media briefing model has potential, especially in
situations where the planner-buyer wants to brief a lot of media owners
very quickly. The danger is that the process becomes mechanised to a
point where creativity is diminished. But there is certainly a role for
online, especially in the initial stages.'
Goodman also doubts whether there's room in the market for the number of
existing platforms. One or two companies would probably be enough. 'At
present, I'm not sure that the platforms out there are able to notify
enough titles quickly enough - I think their databases can also be
improved,' he says.
Tom George, the TV director of Zenith Media, points out that this sort
of service has least relevance in the TV market: 'This whole area is
interesting because one of the problems faced by agencies is that the
market is continuing to fragment - and anything that eases the problems
we face because of that has to be a good thing.
The big question is: 'Can they save us any time?' And in terms of
sending out a brief from us, can they compete with our own e-mail
systems? But, from my point of view, it has to be said that the TV
purchase decision is made a long way in advance of transmission and the
budget is committed early. Airtime in, say, ITV is 99 per cent demanded.
So it's difficult. It is probably relevant to a less demanded product.'