Media: Perspective - GMTV should keep independence for advertisers' sake

Real men don't watch GMTV. If they're anything like me, they watch golf and football on Sky, The Sopranos on E4 and post-football action films on ITV.

But then I always go and fail the real man test. I actually like salad and quiche (not as much as steak and chips but it doesn't make me sick) and I watch Coronation Street, a show invented for women by a gay man, with an audience broadly similar to GMTV's, only much larger.

So for a half-man, half-vegetarian like myself, GMTV has its uses. Like when Johnny Briggs, the veteran actor who plays Mike Baldwin on the Street, goes on it to explain why he's leaving the soap.

ITV must also think that it has its uses, because last week its bid to buy Scottish Media Group's 25 per cent stake in GMTV was cleared, giving it a controlling interest of up to 75 per cent in the morning broadcaster.

The Office of Fair Trading saw no reason to call for a Competition Commission investigation into the deal, batting away concerns from the IPA and others that it would increase ITV's ability to operate a conditional sell and lead to price hikes for advertisers wanting to reach GMTV's audience of women and children.

GMTV's 2 per cent share of TV net ad revenue is small, and the OFT believes advertisers could easily substitute other channels in the event of price increases.

However, this ignores the fact that GMTV pitches itself to household and children's product advertisers as a good environment for product launches. Some advertisers spend between 25 and 100 per cent of their product launch budgets with GMTV, often at lower prices than other broadcasters offer. It also ignores that Ofcom has already asked agencies to provide it with any evidence they have of conditional selling from ITV, after it received anecdotal evidence.

The deal will go through but there are strong arguments against merging GMTV into the main ITV sales division. The GMTV commercial team is lean, just 30-strong across business development, research and sales. It is experienced at a national sell against a specific daypart - something that ITV, with its more regional sell, is not used to.

GMTV is profitable and this year ad revenues are expected to be up 5 per cent on last year. The word around ITV is that there was no real strategy in place ahead of the OFT ruling but that a decision is expected imminently and GMTV's relative health might help to stave off a full merger.

Some are betting on the status quo being maintained in the short term.

However, they see pressure from City investors and analysts for ITV to make savings eventually leading to a full merger of commercial operations with GMTV's. That really would be a blow to advertisers.