Magna, Group M and now OPera have all got media owners wondering just how much difference they can make to trading arrangements. They were hoping for some illumination from the launch of OPera's website last week (www.operamedia.net) but may have to wait until the television negotiation season starts in the autumn.
OPera, which brings together the buying clout of OMD UK, Manning Gottlieb OMD and PHD, argues that it's different to the other buying giants because, according to its website blurb, it will "set new standards in value delivery without compromising the planning excellence that all its parents are famous for".
Despite its cunning gambit of structuring the website according to opera speak (so we get "The Overture", "Scene setting", "Plot", etc), the conclusion arrives at something rather less elegant with this bullish statement of intent: "OPera's five top negotiators hit the market in the summer of 2004 to unleash the power of the group's scale and bring new standards of service in the understanding and optimisation of the media market."
But it will be interesting to see just how OPera, and its rival buying groups, use this scale when buying in media such as national press and radio where deals are frequently done on a client-by-client basis and on a more flexible basis than agency television deals. One national press ad director argues that the OPera blurb provides little insight on this.
And, despite all the smarter thinking and better research that these groups say they will deliver, it's hard to escape the conclusion that they have been created to muscle better deals. "Clients are beating us up on price so we need to pass on the cost somewhere," might be one way of looking at it.
Media owners will try to prepare for this and, partly due to the increasing competition between rivals, are increasing their attempts to extract revenue from non-traditional streams.
Witness five's launch of a commercial development unit last week and a strand at this week's Edinburgh Television Festival called "How to get cash from advertisers" via routes such as advertiser- funded programming and sponsorship.
The group buying operations are still in their early stages of evolution but could fundamentally change the way in which media owners work with agencies.
More immediately, the activities of OPera and Group M will be closely scrutinised over the autumn, and are bound to add spice to an already fascinating deal season.