Media Perspective: Destroying CRR isn't likely to happen for ITV any time soon

Just like a camp hobbit attempting to shake off the greasy attentions of an obsessed Gollum, ITV has spent endless hours plotting an escape from the Contract Rights Renewal remedy. And it just might be granted some hope by the Office of Fair Trading, which is set to announce a review of the mechanism.

Since joining ITV in January, the executive chairman, Sir Michael Grade, has enthusiastically thrown himself behind the cause of destroying CRR, aided and abetted by his right-hand man, the chief operating officer, John Cresswell.

Meanwhile, ITV Sales has seemed oddly quiet on the issue. It is probably right to leave the corporate big guns to do the lobbying, but it also seems to have grown wise to the feeling that constant carping about CRR doesn't win you many friends in the advertising business. Advertisers want to hear about positives, not griping about a formula that ITV's own suits dreamed up to enable the creation of ITV plc in early 2004.

Mischief-makers point out that it is vaguely ironic that ITV is finally set to be granted a review just as ITV1's share of audience shows some signs of life (its July share of audience rose 7 per cent, albeit in comparison with a turgid July 2006). While it's still unlikely that ITV1 will end the year in the ascendant, it would be one of life's quirks if CRR at last delivered some little room to manoeuvre at a time when ITV's leaders are pushing for its destruction.

While the outcome of an OFT review will be fascinating, the process itself could be utterly tedious and predictable. Even if it begins in the autumn, it is less than likely that it will be completed swiftly enough for any change to be implemented in time for 2009. A more realistic target, given the glacial pace at which these things move (and Ofcom, which will co-ordinate the process, is already up to its neck in issues relating to Sky and Channel 4), would be the 2010 trading season.

In terms of argument, the IPA and ISBA will probably be minded to point out that CRR still works for the people it was created for, and that little has changed since in terms of ITV's market dominance (ITV1's share of television revenue remained above 40 per cent for 2006). However, ITV could argue that it is now a more complex and competitive market than four years ago and that CRR is no longer in advertiser interests and is stifling other broadcasters as well as itself.

This won't be resolved anytime soon, so in the meantime, advertisers, who are awaiting the appointment of a new commercial chief at ITV with interest, would welcome a strong autumn performance from ITV to demonstrate that the "Grade effect" has really kicked in.