I have no idea what the people running the Monopolies and Mergers
Commission are like, and would admit to having scant knowledge of their
investigative procedures. What’s more, I’m sure they could produce a
mountain of evidence to support their decisions. But I have no qualms
about describing the MMC’s announcement last week that Capital’s
thwarted attempts to merge with Virgin would have been ruled out as
In its wisdom, the MMC decided that the merger could never have gone
ahead unless Capital reduced its radio assets, despite the fact that the
Institute of Practitioners in Advertising and the Incorporated Society
of British Advertisers (both bodies, I suspect, with more practical
knowledge of the media industry than the MMC) had given the proposed
merger the thumbs up.
The problem rests on one question: is radio (or outdoor, or TV, or even
press) a media market in isolation, or merely a small section of the
total display advertising market?
Those who believe the latter argue that advertising monies can easily
transfer between media if a supposed lack of competition pushes prices
too high in one particular sector. No amount of concentration of media
ownership in the smaller media sectors is going to create the sort of
monopoly that brings advertisers to their knees (though the
concentration of sales is another matter).
In this context, the MMC’s decision to reject the radio merger appears
at best naive, particularly as it coincided with the IPA’s call for a
single regulatory body to govern the broadcast media and, possibly, all
Why, the IPA argues, should commercial TV and radio channels be subject
to stringent rules and regulations when the BBC is making hay in the
commercial world unfettered by the same restrictions?
And why, for example, are cable and satellite channels subject to
different rules to terrestrial TV even though they are all chasing the
same viewers and advertising revenues?
While the BBC is the main concern, the issue throws up the need for a
consistent approach across commercial and public service media,
particularly when the boundaries between the two are increasingly
blurred. And it’s an approach which must accept that increasingly the
display advertising market is not discrete from one medium to the
It is surely time for the Government to accept the need for a level
regulatory playing field for all media.
A single regulator, establishing regulations and editorial guidelines
for all commercial and public service media, may sound like the stuff of
fantasy, but with agencies, advertisers and media owners increasingly
speaking with one voice on the issue, it’s a fantasy the entire
communications industry should work to make a reality.