A view from Ian Darby, ian.darby@haymarket.com

Media: Perspective - Consolidation of TV sales market could cost advertisers

The plates are starting to shift. It's taken an age but changes are now occurring at the commercial levels of the big broadcasters.

Rupert Howell is out at ITV. Five is officially up for sale and by the time you read this, Sky may have done a deal to buy Virgin Media Television.

All of which adds up to a potentially consolidated TV sales market. Reports of an "auction" for Five are hardly surprising. It seems that Five's owner, RTL, has received a derisory bid from a small overseas player and is looking to ramp up the price. UK broadcasters watch from the sidelines but suggestions of their involvement in a bidding contest above a nominal £1 sum appear wide of the mark.

UK advertisers, via their agencies, seem to me to view Five's future with vast indifference, painting Five as a sick puppy that needs to be put in a bag and thrown over a bridge. A harsh judgment in my view, given some of the strides the broadcaster is making in its commercial endeavours. Last week, for instance, the industry launch of its "Cricket on Five" season caught the eye and brought in a big sponsor in the shape of NatWest.

Anything involving Geoffrey Boycott is worth watching, in my view.

Perhaps agencies should be more careful of what they wish for. Some have hammered Five for the past three trading seasons, arguing that they can buy better with a multichannel deal with the likes of ids.

I suspect that sales operation will probably be broken up in the coming months - so we could soon have a situation approximating that in outdoor where three major sales points (ITV, Channel 4 and Sky Media) are dealing with an increasingly consolidated agency network deal system.

Be sure in all this that the battle lines in TV are being drawn. I reckon it's only a matter of time before a broadcaster grows the balls to refer agency groups to the competition authorities. As supporting evidence, I submit ITV's recent statement, buried in a wider rant about losing an appeal over ad regulation, that CRR "offers an unnecessary level of protection to powerful multinational advertisers and media buying agencies who clearly dominate the markets in which they operate". Buyers might find that ITV proves to be a more difficult customer than JCDecaux, Clear Channel or CBS Outdoor.

I hate the idea of regulator intervention so it's to be hoped that the broadcasters and agency groups can work together to avoid this. But an agency deal system that sees some agency groups essentially acting as brokers dealing billions upfront and then shoehorning clients in to suit their own agency agenda is cause for concern. If this doesn't change, then advertisers will suffer.