Media Perspective: As in English footie, media agencies are in a two-tier system

Bloody politicians. All I wanted to worry about this week was the Coca-Cola Championship play-off results.

But would they let me? Not likely. Thankfully, for me, though, recent news events in media have seemed so much more straightforward than those in Westminster.

In short, the big boys are getting bigger and increasing their power. Amid the wreckage of i-level's collapse last week, just look at where most of what survived went. The Specsavers and Orange accounts are moving, in the short term at least, to Mediaedge:cia and the News International business to Mindshare. Yet more business for Group M agencies. And some of i-level's really good people could follow, further bolstering the largest media agency group in the UK.

Presumably, the Group M chief executive, Nick Theakstone, is smiling but should the rest of media? It seems apt that Group M, through its M4C proposition, recently landed the £250 million COI business. This came partly from i-level and adds greater buying clout to an agency group that among some quarters is now identified as the "ministry of media".

At first sight, this seems like a grim result for client or media owners demanding colour, variety and competition. But it can't all be bad. Group M and its holding company rivals such as Publicis' VivaKi and Omnicom Media Group are not merely creating the call-centre equivalent of media buying but investing in technology, research and econometrics in a bid to take media beyond the commodity. And for those clients who don't want to pay for all this expensive gear, there has never been a more competitive local agency market (witness the strength of the likes of Walker Media and Arena BLM) to tap into.

Yet it's hard to escape the conclusion that the result of recent news events will be a media market that is greyer and less differentiated. Wherever the fault lies in i-level's demise, its example is hardly likely to encourage start-up competition for the likes of WPP and Omnicom. Especially with all the scary commitment to investing in tools and technology that now seems to be a requirement in media. At least, though, this has been recognised by most of the major networks who know that they have a fight on to differentiate themselves going forward.

On a smaller scale, hopefully trade buyers, rather than private equity players, will remain interested in acquiring talent where it arises. In terms of media start-ups, the future looks like it might lie in allying a digitally led strategy operation with an ability to execute creative. There will be a future for small, independent media agencies. They just can't aspire to be the same as the large, expensive, network media agencies that play in the equivalent of the Premier League.

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