MEDIA SPOTLIGHT ON: IMEDIAPOINT - Media companies prepare for the online trading revolution. Will iMediapoint’s launch change the face of media selling, Alasdair Reid asks

It had to happen, of course. The media industry could hardly hope to convince people of its belief in the digital revolution when it was still trading all of its airtime in the time-honoured fashion - with two people shouting down a phone line at each other. Soon, there will be a different way of doing business.

It had to happen, of course. The media industry could hardly hope

to convince people of its belief in the digital revolution when it was

still trading all of its airtime in the time-honoured fashion - with two

people shouting down a phone line at each other. Soon, there will be a

different way of doing business.



This week saw the launch of iMediapoint, a web trading outfit which will

allow media companies to bid for airtime and other media opportunities

posted on the imediapoint.com website. The inventory will include

airtime traded by Granada Media Sales plus other Granada group media

opportunities linked to its service stations, hotels and websites. For

the foreseeable future it will not offer much ITV airtime - and

certainly not ITV peaktime, which is always fully traded well in advance

- but that could change in the future. And the venture is also very keen

to represent inventory from other media owners - it clearly has

ambitions to become the media industry’s central online trading

platform.



Will it work? It certainly isn’t a foregone conclusion, however worthy

the initiative - as recent experience in the German market shows. In the

mid-90s, Reuters, which had developed Advalue, an electronic tracking

and booking confirmation system for the US airtime market, decided to

adapt the system for use in Europe. Advalue didn’t actually allow you to

purchase airtime from the screen but the plan was to upgrade it to offer

just such a facility on this side of the Atlantic. Reuters formed a

joint venture with Havas, called Adways, and targeted Germany as its

European bridgehead. This was to be the Big Bang - like the euro, this

was to become a European-wide airtime trading currency.



It didn’t even manage to fly in Germany. Rival broadcasters accused each

other of trying to dominate the system, advertisers and agencies were

lukewarm about the whole project and it was finally holed below the

waterline when broadcasters realised that they didn’t actually need a

common platform.



If they wanted to embrace online trading, all they had to do was to post

excess inventory on their own websites.



Are UK media agencies likely to be similarly lukewarm? Simon Mathews,

the managing director of Optimedia, says that they’ll look foolish if

they are: ’Three years from now everyone will be trading off this

system.



I’d stake a lot on that. For big media owners, the cost savings could be

immense - instead of spending so much time and energy on the mechanics

of trading, they could focus all their sales efforts on more productive

areas.’



But some observers say that using iMediapoint will still require a lot

of back-office support - people might be disappointed at the extent of

what can be automated on this system. But that might count in its favour

- the sophistication of the German system scared many broadcasters, who

thought was too automated and took power out of their hands.



Will iMediapoint merely be a dumping ground for inert airtime -

especially the almost infinite inventory of digital channels? And will

other broadcasters come on board?



Granada’s involvement is obviously treated with suspicion at TSMS and

Carlton. And some broadcasters, especially those with virtually fully

traded channels, like to keep control over all their inventory so that

they have room to manoeuvre in optimising schedules. Could that also

prove a barrier?



Tony Wheble, the head of sales at Flextech Television, says that the

market must outgrow such old-fashioned thinking. He says: ’Internet

airtime trading will happen - it’s only a question of how quickly. The

thinking in the current system is based on a fully-sold ITV, but ITV’s

share is constantly being eroded and we know that in the future there

will be an overall over-supply of media. The more we can automate, the

more we can free up our talented sales people to do more creative

things.’



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