Wal-Mart Stores, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Philips Electronics, Home Depot and Toyota-owned luxury auto marque Lexus have banded together to pilot a revolutionary new scheme that will buy TV airtime via a special auction facility on eBay.

Its sponsors have committed $50 million (€38.8m; £26.18m) to the embryo system, named eMedia Exchange, which is scheduled to launch in early 2007.

As yet only tentative approaches have been made to the broadcast networks, without whose cooperation the scheme cannot work. But some TV diehards have already declared their unease.

Cable operators, however, are less Luddite in their response.

Says Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau president/ceo Sean Cunningham: "US advertisers spend almost $70 billion on TV and when a group of them want us to try to test something as an alternative, we have to listen."

He added: "And 'we' means the programmers and the agencies that do the buying and specifying and stewarding . . . "We've always known that we have a collective electronic future."

On Friday Ann Bybee, corporate manager of advertising, brand and product strategy at Lexus, issued an open call to marketers to join the initiative.

"This is a formal call to encourage all advertisers to participate in the online exchange," she said. "This area hasn't seen change in twenty to thirty years."

But Bybee insists the scheme is not an attempt to oust the traditional late Spring upfront ritual, although she concedes it could usefully substitute for scatter buys.

eBay has already set up a test TV exchange site and is soliciting support via an informational website at admarketpilot.com.

The system is slated to go live in early 2007 and could revolutionize America's TV advertising business. As yet, the website carries little more than a call for registration but significantly invites details of other media that marketers might wish to buy online as well as TV.

Discovery Networks ad sales president Joe Abruzzese is on the eMedia Exchange advisory board. The project also has the support of the Association of National Advertisers and the American Association of Advertising Agencies.

Data sourced from AdWeek (USA) and Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff