FREE ADVERTISING airtime for internet companies is on offer from Channel 4 and Channel 5 in return for an equity stake in the online businesses - a move that apes the successful strategy of some US networks. Channel 5 is expected to be the first to strike such a deal which it expects to be up and running by the end of March. The channel believes that by then it will have committed £3m of airtime to such schemes.

Channel 4 says it is working to a similar timetable, although the deals will not figure on its free-to-view channel as all available airtime has been committed. Instead, it is offering time on its FilmFour subscription channel and upcoming E4 entertainment channel.

Similar thinking is pervading the agency word with eMCSaatchi, the internet offshoot of the eponymous brothers, bartering work for a stake in Says eMC’s chief executive Eben Lenderking: 'We get several offers every single day from internet companies to swap equity in return for producing their ads.' Ad shop St Luke’s also plans to take a holding in in part-payment for its launch campaign later this year.