MEDIA FORUM: The politics of picking TV's adjudicator

Have advertisers' views on the appointment of an airtime adjudicator been taken into account?

John Billett has a talent for controversy. His previous contributions to the debate about how a single ITV sales point might be prevented from abusing its dominant market position were not entirely welcomed by the media buying community.

Many suspect that, whether by design or oversight, his suggestions have been self-serving.

But he is nothing if not persistent. Last week, Billett, the chairman of the media auditing company Billetts, popped up in the ITV merger saga once again when it was revealed that he was sitting on the panel deciding who is to be given the key role of TV airtime adjudicator.

The adjudicator will intervene in the interests of clients if ITV is shown to be acting in a monopolistic manner and he or she will have to do so quickly and incisively because a delayed judgment could ruin an advertiser's (and agency's) whole trading position in crucial dealmaking periods.

So it is vital that the right person be appointed and it was assumed that media buyers and advertisers themselves would have a significant input to the appointment process. But it was not to be. Many in the marketplace were already dismayed about this when they learned of Billett's new role, which, they argued, now adds potential injury to insult.

Are they right? Are they still confident that the government of the airtime market will be as robust and as transparent as promised?

The response of major advertisers has, for perhaps understandable reasons, been very muted. David Walker, the media director of Kellogg, points out that many in the marketplace have made detailed submissions to the regulators, either through their trade bodies or directly.

So he remains optimistic that, in this way, the views of advertisers have been taken into account. He says it would be inappropriate, though, to comment on any of the speculation there has been over the past week. He merely hopes that the regulators have given themselves enough time to examine the question from all angles and take account of all the submissions.

"I hope they have been able to look at all the material they have been sent," he states.

Steve Allan, the chief executive of MediaCom, is slightly more forthright: "I'll have to admit I find it most bizarre that the appointment panel has not been truly representative of advertisers and media buyers - the people who are the most affected and have the most interest in this whole process. It's surprising that it has been handled in such a manner. I'm not saying that I believe we won't get the right solution, just that, quite frankly, many agencies are dismayed."

He adds: "As for Billett's involvement, in particular, I don't have any problem with him being part of the appointment panel. I have a bigger problem with the fact that we were not involved than with the fact that he was. But, by accepting that assignment, I think he now rules himself out of any further involvement in adjudication. Once the adjudicator is in place Billett should take no further part in the adjudicating process."

But Tom George, the spokesman on TV trading practices for the IPA's media futures group, says he can see this from both sides.

He comments: "Ofcom's dilemma is if they invite one client on to the panel, lots of other clients will be upset that their views or the views of their sector will not be represented. You can't expect a client to be completely impartial concerning all clients' needs. Agency representation could be equally problematical. It is further complicated by the fact that if you believe all you hear, several people from the agency and client community either applied for or were approached about the job. Does that mean that anyone connected with those clients or agencies should be barred from having anything to do with the panel? There will probably be people who argue that it does."

Mick Perry, the chairman of Magna Global UK, says one thing is paramount - the adjudicator has to have the respect of both ITV and the media buying world. There is a handful of people in town who can do the job and Perry says he knows who they are. He suspects that those on the panel do not.

He states: "I hope that I will have no reason to speak to the adjudicator but, if I do, I need to be confident that that person is someone who understands the TV trading environment in its entirety. What we don't want is an industry figure who's well known but who hasn't a clue about the nitty gritty of how a deal is put together. So, to me, it's wrong that there's nobody on the adjudication panel that understands this."

"We have had responses and put feedback through the appropriate channels - and we believe that there are many aspects that need careful consideration. Our main concern would be that it might be difficult to sort though all the feedback that will have been received."

- David Walker media director, Kellogg

"We can be optimistic that the right person will be appointed. What we would look for is someone with experience of the TV market and its sales practices. You can get that experience from being a client, being in sales or being a buyer at a media specialist."

- Steve Allan chief executive, MediaCom

"Can you imagine how a panelist would cope with the application of their former boss or their former client? On the other hand, you can argue that Billett doesn't represent one single agency or one single client."

- Tom George spokesman on TV trading practices, IPA media futures group

"The media buying community should definitely have a voice in this. The adjudicator has to know what goes into a contract and why, they have to know what the issues are and how things have evolved over the years to get you to whatever point you are at."

- Mick Perry chairman, Magna Global UK.

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