There’s nothing like the imminent threat of an Office of Fair
Trading inquiry to inspire a closing of the ranks. Campaign’s front page
lead - ’ITV to investigate ITV sales practices’ (20 March) - prompted a
steady stream of ’more in sadness than in anger’ calls, many of which
described the story as ’mischief-making’.
And the fascinating thing was that, although many of these calls came
from the upper echelons of the ITV system, surprisingly similar messages
were also coming from other sectors of the industry.
The OFT, they insisted, was no longer interested in ITV sales practices
- and, even if it was, this was merely a bureaucratic form-ality; a
response to a submission from Laser Sales last autumn.
Yes, the OFT had written to the Institute of Practitioners in
Advertising asking about ’share of broadcast’ deals and the possibility
that sales houses had been acting in concert. The IPA replied, saying it
had encountered no problems with ITV sales houses trading on share of
broadcast. And that, for the IPA, was the end of the affair. On Friday
it issued a statement from Ray Kelly, chairman of the IPA media policy
group, which read: ’We received assurance from the ITV sales houses last
December and consider the issue satisfactorily closed.’
It isn’t, unfortunately. The due processes of the OFT are in motion -
and there are indications that the scope of the OFT inquiry will be far
wider than initially believed. The whole airtime trading system could be
about to come under extremely detailed scrutiny.
Last week, OFT sources seemed to be implying that it had been in contact
with the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers and also that it
had recently written a second time to the IPA.
The OFT says its inquiries are still at the preliminary stage and that
’no decisions have been reached as yet.’.
Bob Wootton, ISBA’s director of media and advertising affairs, says he
is unaware of any official OFT approach. He states: ’I’d be surprised if
anyone were to say definitely that there are no trading issues of
What I can say is that the whole issue of restrictive practices is
something that continues to smoulder. I have not made any consultations
among the membership recently but that might change if I were asked - or
if new evidence came to light. If you are asking about share of
broadcast deals, the difference between it being an issue and not being
one is currently a very fine line indeed.’
Individual IPA members are keen to stop the boat being rocked,
especially by Campaign. But they’re also understandably jumpy. Top of
the conspiracy theory chart last week was that a group of individual
advertisers is continuing to pursue a private vendetta against ITV -
airtime inflation and ITV’s refusal to contemplate extra minutage are
still issues that rankle.
Could that be true? John Blakemore, the advertising director of
SmithKline Beecham, is sceptical. ’If there has been collusion between
ITV sales points, I’ve certainly had no direct experience of it. Nor
have I ever met or spoken to anyone who has,’ he states.
Still, some sectors of the industry seem unsatisfied with the
’We have been hearing that an advertiser or advertisers are behind this
and that they have been feeding very detailed information to the OFT,’
one senior media specialist source said. ’From what I have heard, the
OFT is incredibly well informed. We want to know why the OFT should
still be looking at this five months after it received the first
submission from Laser. The truth is that we don’t need this. I fail to
see what an advertiser might stand to gain in the long run. We want to
know what is really happening.’