Media Perspective: Media prepares for the winds of change in commercial TV

Shockwaves are rippling through the commercial television industry. Last week's decision by ITV to can The Bill after 27 years came as a sickening surprise to its fans and an indication that nothing is safe from the chop.

A Facebook campaign to reinstate it would be going too far but a permanent memorial page might make a fitting and lasting tribute.

Elsewhere, even greater change seems imminent. The anticipated consolidation and deregulation of the commercial TV market has yet to materialise but looks set to happen over the coming months as prospective governments of all shades hint at a relaxation of Contract Rights Renewal. Meanwhile, Ofcom is busy with its report on pay-TV, while also launching a separate review of TV ad rules that cover ad minutage and conditional selling. And, like Minder's Arfur and Terry meeting for a clandestine drink in the Winchester Club, Channel 4 and Five are once again reported to be holding talks about co-operation.

If, as expected, Sky is successful in buying Virgin Media's TV content arm, then one scenario sees the sales house ids being carved up - resulting in Sky Media handling sales of wholly owned VMTV channels such as Bravo and Living, with Channel 4 taking on ids' UKTV sales contract. Should the C4 talks with Five progress, then a C4/Five sales merger ahead of the autumn trading season also looks possible.

Just three main TV sales houses would remain: ITV, reinvigorated in this post-Bill era by strong programming delivering big impacts and a possible relaxation of CRR; an enlarged Channel 4, encompassing Five and UKTV sales; and Sky Media emerging as the third player, offering a multi-channel solution, albeit one that could be weakened should Ofcom's minutage consultation lead to a "harmonisation" of ad minutage and fewer minutes on multichannel.

The implications for advertisers seem clear - relaxation of CRR, fewer ad minutes on multichannel plus the ability for ITV and Channel 4 to cut back on supply will probably mean higher prices. Throw in an end to conditional selling and fewer sales points with greater power, and it seems odds on that TV prices will rise further. Yet it might not be all bad for the advertiser - the flipside could be a premium, less cluttered environment.

It will also be interesting to see, with such change possible and new chief executives arriving at both ITV and Channel 4, how the old guard of TV sales directors will fare. While legendary Bill characters such as Tosh Lines and Reg Hollis have long fallen by the wayside, the likes of ITV's Gary Digby and Channel 4's Andy Barnes will probably fight for a future in the era of 3D, HD and Skins online. Write them off at your peril.


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