A view from Ian Darby, ian.darby@haymarket.com

Media Perspective: Consolidation of TV sales risks leaving a creative vacuum

So Sky is the new owner of channels including Living and Bravo.

Its £160 million hasn't just bought it top-notch content such as Four Weddings and Dog The Bounty Hunter - it's also got its hands on the ad sales contract, previously held by ids, for the newly acquired channels.

There's a danger in this ongoing consolidation that "clever" media falls by the wayside. Viacom Brand Solutions, one of the sales houses most renowned for clever stuff, has already gone and now ids will, at best, have less inventory to play with following the Sky/Virgin Media Television deal.

Both VBS and ids became known as sales operations willing to work outside the usual deals on innovative sponsorships and creative solutions. There might already be a greater onus on Sky to build a reputation for sales innovation, but it seems likely that there will be more consolidation of TV sales contracts and it's hard to escape the feeling that something at the more interesting end of media trading has been lost.

This could be damaging as so many award-winning ideas have come from media owners in the past few years. Consolidation may not entirely work against strong ideas, but there is a suspicion that the benefits of greater scale will not be invested in creativity but instead on providing improved margins for seller and buyer.

That's not to say it's all doom and gloom. There are signs of hope that Channel 4's strategy review could yield something positive and the broadcaster would be building on some fine recent work from Mike Parker's strategic sales team, including a recent series of themed ad breaks. And, looking outside of TV, it was pleasing to see Bauer's investment last month in beefing up its once much-lauded creative solutions team.

But what of the agencies? They are all facing the issue that it's harder to get good work out in a tough economic climate where price seemingly beats the value of a strong idea. Yet because of fragmentation and evolving digital channels, there has arguably never been a greater need for media agencies to look at ways of becoming agencies of ideas.

Some agencies are certainly pushing in this direction and, while I take an early summer break to watch the World Cup in front of my telly, the next three instalments of this column will see three of the UK's top media planners (starting with PHD's David Wilding) tackle issues surrounding creativity in media planning. This should provide food for thought, especially as attention turns to this month's winning media entries at Cannes. It now seems more important that media agencies step up and deliver greater innovation, given that some of the more creatively led media owners are disappearing or finding their resources are cut.

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