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

Media Perspective: Why trading reform could work out well for agency world

The man ahead of me in the queue at New Malden's Tesco was preparing for a big Sunday afternoon.

His shopping basket consisted of a giant bag of Bombay mix (surely it's time to rebrand it as Mumbai?), three bottles of white wine and a pair of England World Cup pyjama bottoms. He was planning to settle down in front of the Monaco Grand Prix followed by the England versus Australia World Twenty20 cricket final.

Quite what state he was in by the time Lewis, my favourite TV show of the moment, came on ITV1 at 8pm remains unclear. But it seems unlikely he was one of the six million-odd watching the Oxford-based sleuth.

A situation that sort of sums up the state ITV now finds itself in as viewing habits change. As I pointed out in a posting online last week, outside Britain's Got Talent, the soaps and the odd stalwart drama such as Lewis, it struggles to post audiences above five million. The hits get bigger but the misses are also looking massive.

Perhaps it's not surprising within all of this that Adam Crozier, ITV's new chief executive, continues to bang that tired old drum about the regulators letting it off the Contract Rights Renewal formula that restricts its ability to merrily hike its prices regardless of audience performance.

Beyond this, though, ITV's thoughts seem spot-on. Though, like other broadcasters, it ran scared of commenting for the piece opposite on whether there should be a wider review of the television trading market, Crozier's broader statement seemed to welcome the Competition Commission's suggestion that this should happen. He talked of the need for "urgent modernisation" to "prevent lasting damage to the UK's creative industries and their reputation as global leaders in this field".

There's a massive dose of self-interest in here, but I agree. The current system of agency deals, of opaque upfront negotiations involving billions of pounds of advertisers' money, can't continue. It militates against ideas and innovation and is, in its worst moments, blatantly corrupt.

And this is one issue on which you can't trust the IPA or media agencies. Even if it were in the interest of their clients, some of them don't want CRR removed, agency deals to end or station average pricing to go. It would mean more work, more individuality in trading and greater creativity. And that would strike at the heart of the efficiencies that behemoths such as Group M are striving to make. Yet, strangely, it might just be the thing that saves them by forcing them to invest in greater differentiation.

It may be messy, it may take ages, but let's hope Ofcom gets its teeth stuck into a top-to-bottom review of TV trading. It's almost as urgent as that Mumbai mix rebrand.

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