Media: Perspective - Upheaval in the TV business gives ITV a lead on its rivals

It was all rather predictable that Andy Duncan, the new chief executive of Channel 4, chose to give nothing away at the durbar convened to commemorate his appointment. While he was big on platitudes, there was little substance on his proposals for Channel 4's public service remit, its digital strategy and, more crucially in the short term, its status as an independent TV sales point (see p12).

While this may be understandable given that he has not yet started his job and the enormity of the strategic implications, it also means, unfortunately, that the current situation, with all the rumours and whispering of who's talking of merging with whom, will continue.

Ever since the Government gave approval to the ITV merger last year, the rest of the commercial broadcasters have been involved in constant exploratory sales merger talks with their rivals.

For example, five, which has already been seen dancing around its handbag with Channel 4, is now apparently in talks with Flextech TV over a possible marriage of convenience.

Meanwhile, Sky Media, which has seen its share of viewing for its Sky-branded channels fall, is having problems keeping hold of its third-party contracts, allowing the Flextech sales house, ids, to hold talks with anyone who'll listen.

All this uncertainty can hardly have given clients and agencies much faith in the medium, particularly at a time when TV should be going all guns blazing at marketing itself and stealing back share.

You might think that there was hope in the form of the nascent TV marketing body, set up to mimic the success of the Radio Advertising Bureau in response to advertiser demand.

Two months ago, the organisation, which was founded by the sales directors from all the commercial TV stations, instructed The Ingram Partnership to develop a more effective way of marketing the medium. However, the cracks are beginning to show, largely because of the structure and voting rights of the body.

The broadcasters provide funding on the basis of their percentage of net ad revenue while each TV company is given an equal say and vote in how the money is spent.

This means the multichannel sprats, such as Turner Broadcasting, have the same clout as the terrestrial sharks. The potential for conflict was obvious from the start and now the bigger players are rumoured to be seeking to quietly extricate themselves from the body so they can do their own thing.

But one winner has emerged. Unencumbered by the need for merger discussions and uncertainty over its future sales structure, ITV has been allowed to steal a march on selling the medium to clients over its rivals. And, for the market leader, this is exactly as it should be.


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