Major advertisers such as Procter & Gamble are understood to be considering breaking ranks with the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA) in support of ITV’s plans to merge its airtime sales operations.
ITV is succeeding in convincing the UK’s biggest advertisers that a more unified sales operation would provide them with opportunities to save money.
A source close to P&G says the spiralling costs of ITV airtime make single deals with one selling point more useful than trading with a number of sales houses. “We need to find more ways to get cheaper airtime. Single deals are just one way of doing this,” he says.
“The argument is that ITV would be better able to compete if it was less federal,” says Bob Wootton, ISBA director of media services. “Certainly, its audience is going down, particularly the young, upmarket audience, and in the South.
“Advertisers want ITV to deliver strongly, and we are interested in anything ITV has to say with regard to improving its audience.”
One source at a rival television company says ITV has been secretly looking at merging its sales operations for some time, especially in the light of Channel 5’s launch. According to government guidelines, it can combine operations once its audience share falls below 50 per cent.
A merger would run contrary to ISBA’s long-standing policy of defending diversity of ownership and selling points across ITV to prevent the channel from exploiting its position as the dominant supplier of commercial audiences.
“I understand that people are being sounded out to find out where the pockets of support and opposition may be,” says Wootton.
ISBA is not setting its face against an eventual revision of ITV ownership rules or the percentage of airtime sales handled by ITV’s three dominant sales houses. However, Wootton calls for advertisers to be cautious about supporting a relaxation of the rules governing limits on ownership or airtime sales. “Whoever wanted to have such moves would have to make very compelling arguments indeed,” he says.
“Our view is that ITV can do more than it is currently doing to make what it offers more attractive to viewers. It would take a sizeable lobby to relinquish the current rules.”
ITV’s sales are currently divided between Laser Sales, which sells Yorkshire-Tyne Tees, LWT, Granada and Border; Carlton, which sells Central, Westcountry and Carlton; and TSMS, which is responsible for HTV, Anglia, Meridian, Grampian, Scottish, S4C and Ulster.