Peacock net ad pact ruffles feathers

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A sports management and TV company said it is selling network ad time for General Electric Co.'s NBC in high-profile shows-a move that shows the increasing bargaining power of program providers.

Bob Horowitz, senior VP of TWI, the television division of sports management giant IMG, said the company is selling time in NBC prime time shows such as "Dateline NBC," as well as the Salt Lake City Olympics. An NBC spokeswoman denies the account.

Such an arrangement would be unusual; indeed, industry executives said it would likely be the first time a network has allowed an outside company to sell time in network shows that the outside company doesn't own.

According to TWI, NBC gave up control of the inventory last year as part of a deal brokered by TWI for the right to televise the Wimbledon tennis tournament. The deal involved a cash payment, as well as giving TWI the rights to sell some time in the Wimbledon event and some TV time beyond the Wimbledon event, TMI said.

The deal is somewhat controversial because NBC would seem to be competing with TWI in selling time on "Dateline NBC" or the Olympics. That would mean advertisers could pick and choose which to deal with-NBC or TWI. That could cause problems for NBC sales executives.

Mr. Horowitz said measures have been implemented to ease conflicts with NBC. TWI, for example, will deal only with airline, hotel, rental car, wine and watch companies, he said, although he added that other categories will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

"We are unbelievably careful," said Mr. Horowitz. "If NBC called up and said, `You're stealing money from us,' I'd tell our sales guys to cancel it because that is not the spirit of the agreement."

TWI's pitch also attempts to go around ad agencies and sell to the client directly. "If I bought this from him, I'd be stepping on my agency," said a media executive at a client company who said he was pitched NBC programming from TWI. "The whole thing sounds so weird to me."

Typically, TWI, as well as other sports TV companies, agree with a network to a "time buy," where, for example, TWI buys a two-hour block on NBC to air its program. It then goes out and sells the advertising time to advertisers. This is particularly helpful to the network, because it doesn't always have close contacts with niche advertisers, such as golfing equipment manufacturers.

TWI produces a number of domestic and internationally distributed sports TV shows, such as "The Skins Game," a golf event. It also deals with the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club for distribution of the international feed of its Wimbledon tennis event.

Recently, TWI was offering to package for advertisers its weekend sports show, "Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon," which aired on NBC last week, with time in "Dateline NBC," as well as the Salt Lake City Olympics.

NBC could possibly use help in selling some programming. NBC will broadcast the Salt Lake City Olympics next year, and Bob Wright, NBC chairman, has said that ad sales of the event are somewhat slower than expected.

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