OPINION: A single national sell would improve TV airtime trading - Tony Kenyon believes ITV, as the dominant supplier of commercial airtime, should be able to act as a market leader to prevent a loss of revenue to ’cheaper’ channels

Take any TV conference held during the 80s and the subject of inflation and the need for more competition in the commercial sector surface as regularly as digital, interactive and audience fragmentation do today.

Take any TV conference held during the 80s and the subject of

inflation and the need for more competition in the commercial sector

surface as regularly as digital, interactive and audience fragmentation

do today.

The intense lobbying in the 80s - primarily by large, traditional TV

advertisers and their agencies - was partly a genuine desire to find a

mechanism to control inflation but was also a symptom of the desire to

punish ITV for its monopoly and arrogance.

As we approach the millennium, we have the competition that was so

deeply desired in the 80s. But I sense the level of dissatisfaction

among advertisers to be just as great.

There is no evidence that the increased volume of commercial airtime has

sig-nificantly reduced airtime inflation.

Indeed, the extra supply has encouraged a growth in the diversity of TV

advertisers and hence demand for the medium.

Audiences are now scattered across a range of channels and are therefore

available to advertisers in smaller quantities with the subsequent

problems of controlling coverage and frequency distributions.

The plethora of channels available today, growing almost by the minute,

has put a huge strain on administrative systems precisely at the time

when the intense competitive pressures felt by agencies are squeezing

margins. This will manifest itself in a reduced level of service.

The final irony, as far as the major advertisers are concerned, is that

the extra competition in the marketplace has eroded their ability to

command large discounts as premium money - previously used by ITV to

balance these discounts - has largely moved to new and ’cheaper’


This migration of premium money away from ITV, allied to changes in the

audience profile it has suffered, has resulted in a far more difficult

market than I can remember - except perhaps for the era of retail price


The brunt of these problems is felt by the very advertisers who so

vocally demanded competition in the 80s.

Against this background I find it surprising that the concept

(hypothetical, because of current legislation) of a united ITV with a

single sales point seems to be meeting such opposition.

Perhaps the memories of the afore- mentioned monopoly and arrogance

still haunt certain advertisers. If so, I believe they should be

reassured. The appointment in July of Richard Eyre, the former chief

executive of Capital Radio, as chief executive of the ITV Network Centre

can only be welcomed and a united ITV would be far from a monopoly.

Indeed, I suspect ITV’s attitude to its customers would improve should

its position be strengthened.

In my opinion, it is crucial that the majority supplier of commercial

airtime should be able to act like a market leader rather than indulge

in internecine warfare while the competition cherry-pick revenue.

A united ITV would be able to prevent wholesale migration of revenue

through appropriate sales policies and, if this revenue was correctly

invested, could enhance the quality of its programming.

A single national sell would reduce the burden of administration and

those agencies which have not lost the art of negotiation could see a

return to a situation where their large, well organised clients receive

the value they deserve.

It would, of course, create problems for those buyers whose only skill

is to over-invest in cheaper channels - but then the TV market has

always relied on a balance of winners and losers.


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