Turner's sales team this week goes on-line with one agency-Foote, Cone & Belding, New York-and later this month with 18 other top 25 agencies using Donovan Data Systems' Netpak service.
The new on-line buying system will substantially reduce the time it takes for agencies to input contracts, the bane of cable media buyers. Turner alone sells nearly 1 million commercial units a year, or roughly $1 billion in ad sales.
"That's a lot to input," said Larry Goodman, exec VP-operations and client services at Turner Broadcasting Sales, who estimates that for an agency, it now takes five times longer to input a cable contract than a broadcast contract.
For six months, Mr. Goodman has headed a team dedicated to improving the Turner sales unit's back office and moving it into the electronic era. Currently, Donovan is used as a back office link between media companies and 18 of the top 25 ad agencies, representing about 70% of U.S. ad billings.
In addition to FCB, Turner is talking to the other six non-Donovan shops in the top 25 about developing similar on-line methods.
Besides expediting cable buys, Mr. Goodman said, the system will virtually do away with input errors. It will also help Turner "pre-reconcile" invoices to agencies, including an automatic account of how spots ran along with recommendations for a make-good schedule for spots that didn't air correctly.
Ultimately, Mr. Goodman said, Turner would like the system to evolve into one that fully automates the buying process, including electronic payment.
Many other major cable networks are working on similar systems. A number of them, including USA Network, are testing an on-line system with McCann-Erickson and Wells Rich Greene BDDP, both of New York.
In its annual cable TV report, Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising called the developments an advance that "has saved countless hours of manual input of cable schedules, which often contain hundreds of spots."