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As Ad Probe Widens, Turner Fights Back

Even as the American Association of Advertising Agencies
(Four A's) broadened its look into media-buying discrepancies to include ESPN, Turner
Broadcasting Sales Inc. last week fired a return volley in its war of words with Grey
Advertising Inc.

The Four A's national television and radio committee,
chaired by Jon Mandel, said March 2 during the association's Media Conference in
Orlando, Fla., that 20 percent to 30 percent of media buys made on ESPN last year had
discrepancies of some kind, according to a published report last week.

Ed Erhardt, president of the ESPN/ABC Sports ad-sales
operation -- who was not invited to that meeting -- said last Wednesday, "The
conflict between what's bought and what's delivered" will always be there,
since ESPN covers so many live sports events. "We can't control how long a game
goes," he explained, "or how long the overtime will be, and sometimes, we
can't break into the action [for commercials]."

But Erhardt also said ESPN has "begun investing in our
back office in a significant way, well over seven figures." It plans to add one-dozen
such staffers over the next year and to test sophisticated technology in order to be as
real-time as possible in the scheduling and management of its live events.

Erhardt added, "Nobody has accused us of doctoring
[media-buying] logs, and we have not doctored logs."

Meanwhile, Turner executives, tired of Grey's MediaCom
unit's criticism of its commercial-verification process, went public last week with
their own assessment of the log-discrepancy issue, calling attention to MediaCom's
own back-room problems.

As Turner officials have maintained since January, the
log-discrepancy spat with MediaCom is a relatively minor one, involving a single spot on
Turner Network Television for an unspecified client that ran incorrectly last spring, but
that has long since been reconciled with the agency.

Joe Uva, president of sales and marketing at Turner
Entertainment Group, said that of 19,000 spots ordered and run by MediaCom on Turner
networks last year, about 2.4 percent were "discrepant on a pre-invoice basis."
Reasons ranged from technical difficulties to copy not being ready or having to be

Once invoices are issued, though, the percentage of
discrepant Mediacom-placed spots drops to 0.6 percent, he added, usually because of slight
adjustments in brand allocations.

Uva also said Grey was at the top of its past-due list and
the most expensive agency to service.

MediaCom trails other agency media operations in terms of
doing timely tracking reports, Uva added. For example, MediaCom did not finish its
third-quarter-1999 invoice-order matching report until February, "So how could they
know what the discrepancies were?"

As of March 1, Mediacom had not completed its
fourth-quarter tracking report, he added.

Mandel is co-managing director of MediaCom and senior vice
president of Grey, as well as chairman of the Four A's committee looking into the
double-billing and verification issues. Unavailable for comment since the TNT log issue
surfaced in January, Mandel was again unreachable at press time.

Uva confirmed that he had been invited to the
association's Walt Disney World confab for the Mandel committee discussion. But he
added, "They invited [Home & Garden Television], too, on an entirely different
issue [double-billing], and we didn't feel it was relevant to be there with

Uva also called erroneous a published report that there
were two logs for the same date. Rather, he said, there were two invoices, one of which
corrected the other.