MEDIA: SPOTLIGHT ON; TURNER BROADCASTING’S BARTER CONCEPT: Will Turner’s proposed barter system meet with approval?

Turner Broadcasting’s new barter plans are a radical idea, Alasdair Reid argues

Turner Broadcasting’s new barter plans are a radical idea, Alasdair Reid


Ready for a new concept in barter? Many people find the whole business

confusing as it is, but Turner Broadcasting is about to give it a new


Most TV barter deals involve an advertiser acquiring the rights to

television programming - usually the sorts of shows that it thinks will

suit its image. Unilever goes for things like Wheel of Fortune, while

PepsiCo likes the rock and lifestyle magazine programme, Passengers. The

advertiser then takes its programming to the TV channels and offers it,

not for cash, but in exchange for airtime and sponsorship credits.

Turner proposes to do things differently. It has set up an office in

London with the task of trading airtime on CNN and TNT/the Cartoon

Network in exchange for the advertiser’s product. It will consider

anything from tins of beans to computers. Taking advantage of its

international network, Turner will then attempt to market these products

in other countries or sell them to its 8,500 staff worldwide.

The idea is that, in today’s volatile world markets, companies sometimes

get their forecasts completely wrong and produce far too much of

whatever it is they make. Such mistakes threaten profits, and when

things look bad for companies the first thing they cut is their

marketing budgets. That, in turn, is not good news for media owners.

Turner reckons that this new type of barter kills two birds with one


It works in the US, apparently. But will it catch on here? Axel van

Drongelen, the international sales director of the unit - called the

Turner Reciprocal Advertising Corporation - says: ‘We are a global

company, with international television channels, so I think it’s most

likely we’ll be talking primarily to the headquarters of international


‘This is not going to be huge, but what we are able to do is offer

flexibility to advertisers when paying for their ads. Everyone we have

talked to so far has been intrigued by the offer and I think there will

be an interest here in the UK,’ van Drongelen continues.

The line many advertisers take is that it is an interesting concept, but

will never be appropriate because advertisers manage their production

and inventory levels too efficiently. Which is what you would expect

them to say. But maybe there’s a real market here. Perhaps other

broadcasters should look at the potential - not just hungry cable and

satellite channels, but the bigger players as well.

After all, even ITV companies are exploring what were once peripheral

areas. For example, when negotiating with Granada’s sales house, Laser,

a confectionery company might be asked to consider its business

relationship with Granada Service stations.

So, can UK broadcasters learn anything from this new Turner operation?

Jerry Hill, the managing director of TSMS, is sceptical: ‘It’s usually

in mature businesses that people have to look for new ways of making a

margin. Television is far from a mature business. Revenue keeps growing,

as does TV’s share of all display advertising. And you certainly

wouldn’t expect the brand leader, ITV, to be looking at this sort of


He adds: ‘But that doesn’t mean we don’t believe there are other ways of

doing business. In the past, we’ve done a bit of conventional barter -

though we are always wary of being hostages to fortune by losing control

of our inventory.

‘Would we barter airtime in exchange for having a fleet of brand new

Mercedes sitting in the car park? Why not? Though I suppose the

Independent Television Commission might have something to say about it.

How would the levy be calculated? And we would have to demonstrate that

we conduct transparent business transactions, which might be hard with

this type of barter,’ Hill says.