Media: Lifeline - Airtime trading troubles

The airtime trading sector has a murky history that is peppered with scandal.

Late 80s: As share deal trading becomes increasingly important, agencies initiate divide-and-rule strategies, playing the "Bermuda Triangle" contractors (Central, Yorkshire and Granada) off against each other. To balance their books, agencies are often forced to pull their clients out of entire regions. This practice obviously helps agencies more than advertisers.

1992: To counter, contractors roll their sales operations into less vulnerable sales houses. They routinely sell more than they can deliver and MAS, the sales house for Yorkshire and Tyne Tees, run by Craig Pearman and Tess Alps (below), is the first to be caught out.

1996: The boot is on the other foot as Laser Sales, which represents an ill-fated Yorkshire TV among others, issues a writ against CIA Medianetwork for its failure to meet its share deals. The agency's managing director, Mike Tunnicliffe, threatens to counter-sue for libel but it eventually pays up what it owes - in the region of £1 million.

1999: Viacom Brand Solutions discovers a new way to throw the airtime market into chaos when it hires the wrong Matt. It believed it was poaching the highly respected Matt Shreeve from Channel 4, but instead made its offer to Matt Marsden. When the dust settles and Marsden departs, the new team has to go out to renegotiate all the VBS deals.

December 2004: IDS, the Telewest-owned sales house led by Mark Howe (below), faces investigation by its parent company over alleged commission payments to agencies. IDS's 2005 deals were hit and telephone discussions between IDS and agencies recorded.

Fast forward: 2005 Ofcom delivers its much-anticipated report into airtime trading. It makes damning reading both for agencies and sales points, and insists on radical reform. It not only outlaws all forms of share dealing but argues that all relative pricing mechanisms pegged to ITV's station average price should end. Airtime is now to be auctioned on a fixed-price, upfront basis.