Media Forum: Is Sky deal good for clients?

Will it mean advertisers get better cross-platform deals?

A clearly traumatised Sly Bailey, the chief executive of Trinity Mirror, no doubt summed up the situation for many in this country when she called it a "whitewash" and "a deal too far". She thus pitched it somewhere between Watergate and Arnheim in the national consciousness.

Some, however, clearly thought that those declarations were not half good enough. At the very least - as evidenced by reader comments on articles across a handful of newspaper sites - last week's events signalled the end of a proud tradition of democracy in what was formerly Great Britain.

They were, obviously, talking about the decision of the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, to approve News Corporation's move to take full formal control of a company it has always had a large stake in - BSkyB - subject to undertakings preserving the impartiality and independence of Sky News.

The channel will now be housed in a new company owned by the current BSkyB shareholders, with News Corp having the option to increase its initial 39.1 per cent stake over a ten-year period. News Corp may be asked to make additional undertakings with regard to "media plurality" - not too strenuous a proposition given that no-one in recent memory has ever successfully defined what media plurality really means.

From an advertising market point of view, though, debate has been not so much about whether Rupert Murdoch will choose to appear nightly on Sky News to force-feed Tea Party-style propaganda to the British populace, but whether there might be problems (or, indeed, opportunities) arising from a closer relationship between the commercial operations of his newspaper and online and TV empires.

Chris Hayward, the head of investment at ZenithOptimedia, says he has no time at all for those determined to whinge about the deal. In particular, he says he has no respect for the BBC and its determination to stir - the same BBC that, when the Irish political situation was slipping towards meltdown a couple of weeks ago, led its news bulletins, even on Radio 4, with news that BSkyB had parted company with a couple of football pundits. "That's the BBC contribution to media plurality. How plausible is that?" he ponders.

And he adds: "My advice to all concerned is - get over it. The new outfit will be a huge brand, with key platforms and channels. Yes, they might try to sell conditionally across more than one media channel but we've all been through this issue before - and, in fact, I'd question how effective News International has been in looking for cross-media sales opportunities across all of its newspaper brands in the past."

But Richard Morris, the deputy managing director of Carat, can't entirely agree what that analysis. He explains: "You assume this will mean you will be able to work better on a cross-platform basis. But the potential problems from a trading perspective weigh heavily on the other side."

Not necessarily, Alex Altman, the chief executive of Initiative, counters: "Of course there's an element of being careful about what you wish for - and with power should come responsibility. There are potential downsides when one group is able to sell so much. But I don't think anyone should underestimate the challenges there are in bringing culturally different and geographically different parts of the operation together for single conversations. And I think it's important to look at the opportunities rather than any potential problems. I sincerely hope that people move to embrace this."

Which is pretty much how John Davidson, the head of trading at Starcom MediaVest Group, sees things. He points out that Sky has been quietly developing strong partnerships with data experts such as Experian, not to mention potential plans to make its current SkyView audience data system vastly more powerful and sophisticated. Additionally, it is not far away from offering targeted TV advertising through SkyAdSmart.

He concludes: "These are real products our clients would be very interested in - either through separate channels, or in addition to bespoke client solutions. This, we believe, is the big opportunity that this deal offers - the prospect of becoming a stronger partner with a multi-layered digital proposition that suddenly makes sense.

"From an advertiser point of view, there is arguably more potential value and opportunity in the News Corp-Sky fusion. However, the jury is out on whether News Corp will play by the rules."

YES - Chris Hayward, head of investment, ZenithOptimedia

"There may be some in the media trading world who will worry about competition issues but I don't think that will be a real concern to anyone. We have to see this as a great opportunity."

NO - Richard Morris, deputy managing director, Carat

"There are opportunities connected to an integrated media company. However, the trading argument weighs heavily on the other side. Consolidation tends to be against the interests of our clients."

YES - Alex Altman, chief executive, Initiative

"The ability to engage consumers across print, TV, iPad and digital is what we have been crying out for - the ability to engage by audience. With regard to cross-selling, agencies are smart enough to look after their clients."

YES - John Davidson, head of trading, Starcom MediaVest

"From an ad point of view, the market will react against any attempt disproportionately to leverage investment across newspapers and TV. However, there is a real opportunity for deeper client engagement across all BSkyB and NI content touchpoints."

Got a view? E-mail us at campaign@haymarket.com

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