Clear Channel and Capital could start industry fireworks

The bill has become an Act. Now journalists and MPs can take a breather from media ownership and concentrate on the serious matter of political reporting and the BBC; and the rest of us can have fun betting on takeover victors and victims, writes Claire Beale.

The first thing to bear in mind is that the passing of the Communications Act into law is unlikely to be met with a bunfight of activity. The ad climate and the stock market rating of media companies won't encourage immediate action, even if the new Act were clearer on the chances of greenlight success. As it is, the letter of the new legislation is blurred enough to ensure the majority of likely deals will face tough scrutiny from the regulators, underpinned by the late arrival in the bill of the public interest test on media plurality.

So expect much chest puffing and little cheque writing from home-grown media companies. As for the global media giants whose shadow drove fear into the hearts of the self-appointed guardians of domestic media culture, the recent deregulation in US media ownership rules has provided an early distraction for those hungry for growth; the small UK fry can simmer for a while yet.

But there's plenty to relish now from the prospect of consolidation and the radio industry is already setting the wick for its own consolidation fireworks, with the sniping between Capital Radio and Clear Channel proving an early side-show. The US radio giant Clear Channel (best known here for its ownership of the More O'Ferrall Adshel outdoor business) has long paraded its hunger for expansion and radio's choicest brand, Capital, is a key target. But Clear Channel's international chief, Roger Parry, and Capital's David Mansfield have already entered face-off mode.

At the Birmingham Radio Festival a couple of weeks ago, Mansfield smartly batted back any suggestion that Clear Channel would be a welcome purchaser. Which rebuff the silver-tongued Parry likened to "Ann Widdecombe turning down a date with Brad Pitt".

Mansfield (a leather-jacketed Pink Floyd fan whose passion for his medium suits him like a black crew neck), battling the ad recession and the audience fallout from a fuzzy editorial strategy at Capital, seems at first glance the underdog; Parry (slick, braced and tied charmer, a media darling who would complement any boardroom, any industry) has the deep resources of the mighty Clear Channel to plunder in the name of European expansion.

So on the one side you have Capital, synonymous with London and the owner of local stations ingrained into the culture of their region. On the other, the US media giant whose founder famously claimed Clear Channel is in the business of "selling hamburgers and Fords". Culturally they couldn't be further apart and while the war of words may simply be pre-negotiation posturing, any Clear Channel advance on Capital will test the spirit of the Act to its limit. Place your bets and take your seats.

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