Sydney-headquartered Nine Network, owned by Sir Frank Packer's Publishing & Broadcasting, has issued a denial that it is poised to abandon its twenty-year practice of capping TV airtime rates in return for a guaranteed A$1 billion (US$775.4m; €582.7m; £401.8m) in advertising revenues.

Sales director Vance Lothringer is adamant that the company has no such intention. "There's a lot of myth and Scotch mist around. I haven't even been to the market. I haven't put a proposition to anybody. I haven't even started."

Media buyers, however, are telling a different story - although only one is prepared to put her head above the parapet and identify herself.

Zenith Optimedia chief executive Anne Parsons accused Lothringer of changing his tune. "If you're getting that from Vance, he's now backtracking," she told the Sydney Morning Herald. "He's trying to put a softer lens on things."

Other media executives prefer to remain anonymous while insisting that Nine has been peddling a "flexible" demand-based ratecard over the past few weeks. They believe the move is intended to distract attention from the broadcaster's lowest commercial audience share in a decade; also to shoehorn an 8%-plus average rate increase for 2005.

Lothringer conceded he had "spoken to media buyers" but refuted this was about any radical change to the way Nine trades part or all of its $1 billion in airtime revenues. Such talk he dismissed as pure "speculation".

The Lothringer line is that he has yet to start official talks with media buyers and that these, in any event, will not be concluded until "the end of next week".

Data sourced from Sydney Morning Herald; additional content by WARC staff