MEDIA PERSPECTIVE: TV minnows must team up to ensure they can compete

I suppose no-one should be surprised about the ITC's decision to

allow any further significant change in the way TV airtime is sold. As

usual, the dramatic stuff goes ITV's way and, having made a bold move in

allowing only two ITV sales houses, the ITC seems nervous about rocking

any more boats.



So last week's pronouncement is pretty much about maintaining the new,

ITV-favourable, status quo. Not everything has gone ITV's way. There is

to be no joint London sell (pity - the politics of who should head that

little gem would have been such a joy to see) and ITV share deals are

outlawed (so keep schtum). But the ITC ruling prevents any channels with

more than 5 per cent share of national advertising revenue selling

together.



So any hopes Channel 5's Nick Milligan might have harboured of a joint

proposition with Channel 4 are buggered. The IPA is happy, though its

logic seems rather twisted. It seems to be arguing that even though ITV

has got bigger, if it can stop anyone else getting bigger then it can

maintain some sort of competition - which seems a bit arse about face to

me.



There is, however, room for manoeuvre. GMTV, for example. Remember Clive

Crouch? Now the ITC will allow GMTV to throw in its lot with ITV, the

days of the nondescript GMTV sales team look numbered - despite the fact

that they've not done a bad job of holding up the station's share.

Still, there's no doubt that GMTV would benefit from a bigger

presence.



Then there's Flextech - another lacklustre sales team crying out for a

facelift. Flextech could profitably take its ragbag of channels and sign

up with another, bigger sales force, although that, of course, would

require a little more spark and ambition than we are used to seeing from

Flextech corporately. As for Viacom ... well, its decision to set up its

own sales operation under Paul Curtis suggests that it will be quite

some time before this sad UK shadow of its parent company really gets a

grip on what the UK TV marketplace is all about.



The real result of all of this is that TV's lame ducks get thrown a very

thin lifeline while ITV is still sitting ugly. The sensible thing for

the minnows to do, of course, would be to take advantage of the ruling,

and fast, finding new partners to broaden their presence in the

marketplace.



It's true that a flick through the history book would suggest one

broadcaster selling another's airtime is no recipe for happy ever after

(remember ITV selling Channel 4?). But ITV's own consolidation has

forced the pace on the TV buying side and more trading mergers between

sister media agencies is surely not only utterly logical, but absolutely

inevitable. In which case, the smaller broadcasters (even those with a

TV brand to sell - and how many of those are there?) cannot afford to

ignore this slender opportunity.



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