TNT snubs 4A's offer to discuss ad-log procedure

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Executives from Turner Network Television rebuffed an invitation last week to explain their back-office procedures to an American Association of Advertising Agencies committee. The move followed allegations from Jon Mandel, the chairman of the Four A's Network Television & Radio Committee, that TNT may have doctored its books last year.

Mr. Mandel, also co-managing director of Grey Advertising's Mediacom, had accused TNT of changing its traffic log to show a spot had run after Mediacom claimed it had not run (AA, Jan. 24). At that time, a TNT spokesman blamed the incident on "sloppy" communication and termed it "a clerical mistake."

`NOT A FOUR A'S ISSUE'

It was Mr. Mandel who invited Turner executives to appear March 2 to explain their traffic procedures.

Larry Goodman, president of CNN sales and marketing and the person in charge of traffic and operations for Turner Broadcasting Sales, said he declined the invitation on behalf of Turner. "Each agency does its own stewardship, and we didn't want to make a question Mediacom had for us a Four A's issue because we don't think it is," Mr. Goodman said.

He said various Turner staffers had met extensively with Mediacom to resolve any questions, adding that he asked Mr. Mandel to convey to other committee members that Turner executives would be happy to meet on an individual basis.

DIVIDE AND CONQUER?

One media executive said Mediacom's accusations had made their way up the Time Warner food chain to Chairman-CEO Gerald Levin. "With the pending America Online merger, the last thing [Mr. Levin] wants is the word `fraud' brought up with regard to any Time Warner dealings," the executive said.

Of Turner's offer to meet with individual agencies separately, another agency executive said, "That's the old divide-and-conquer strategy. They should have met with the committee, like HGTV did, and reassure everyone that everything was OK."

Home & Garden Television met with the Four A's committee after the network admitted that some spots sold nationally were pre-empted on a number of local cable systems by local spots. The HGTV problem was first revealed in a lawsuit filed against the network.

"Right now HGTV is as clean as an MD-80," said Mr. Mandel, referring to inspections that were done on MD-80 passenger airliners after one crashed recently.

"The executive who was in charge of ad sales when HGTV did that resigned. HGTV made everyone whole. They appear to have procedures in place so it won't happen again."

The Four A's committee was so disturbed by Turner's decision not to show up that individual members have decided to conduct their own agency evaluations of buys on Turner and then report their findings to the whole committee, according to executives familiar with the gathering. They also are considering sending out a strongly worded letter to cable networks saying that back-office traffic procedures must be tightened to assure that clients' spots do run.

"You have to understand, Turner writes about a third of all cable business," one agency executive said. "And they are considered one of the best in terms of back-office. So we're all wondering, well, if Turner has a problem, what about some of the other cable networks?"

Mr. Ross is editor of Electronic Medi

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