MEDIA FORUM: Is internet media trading finally coming of age? - What happened to the predicted online media revolution? Actually, it's still underway, albeit in a much revised form, as Alasdair Reid reports

At a conference on online media trading a couple of years back,

there was an interruption from the floor during one of the afternoon

sessions.



'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

commodities.



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

curve.



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

happening.'



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

risks.'



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.'



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