Ironically, it was Granada’s Gerry Robinson who first called for a
single company to run ITV. With last week’s proposed merger between
Carlton and United News & Media, that vision took a step closer to
becoming a reality. But the deal has implications which spread well
beyond the sphere of ITV.
Considering the merger from the parochial confines of the UK, the
creation of a new ITV colossus, controlling six ITV licences and around
35 per cent of all TV revenue, is a definite cause for concern.
If the deal gets a green light from the regulators, it will place the
country’s biggest commercial TV channel in the hands of just two
powerbrokers - the merged Carlton/United and Granada - with obvious
implications for advertisers.
ITV companies have always been known for their aggressive sales tactics
and any new concentration of power is unlikely to turn the crack ITV
sales teams into sensitive and generous negotiators.
Add in United’s ownership of Express Newspapers, Carlton’s ONdigital
interests and new-media assets, and the new combine will clearly have a
firm grip on advertisers’ budgets.
For these reasons, the deal will draw criticism from advertising trade
bodies and cause more than a few headaches for the regulators. Yet it is
unlikely that the merger would have got this far without at least some
discussion with the regulatory authorities - particularly since United’s
chief executive, Lord Hollick, is a Labour peer and friend of the
The monopolistic concerns raised by this deal are very real, but set
alongside the likes of a News Corporation, a Time Warner or a
Viacom/CBS, a merged Carlton/United is still a pitifully small player.
To take a narrow UK view is to replicate the missed opportunities of the
past which have ensured that UK media companies have been cowed on the
world stage at a time when the media industry has become a global one.