ITV clients prepare Carlton/United protest

Some of ITV’s biggest customers are to meet this week to draft their objections to the Carlton/United News & Media merger.

The meeting follows a presentation on Friday to senior agency and client figures by Lord Hollick, chairman of United, who would become chief executive of the new group, and Nigel Walmsley and Malcolm Wall – to become chairman and chief executive of the merged company’s TV business.

The three set out their case for the &£7.8bn merger, arguing consolidation of ITV ownership is vital to maintain a strong channel in the face of media fragmentation. They claim advertisers will benefit from increased investment in programming and the development of digital TV.

But advertisers fear the new group will have unacceptable power in ad sales negotiations. The merged group would control 36 per cent of TV ad revenue – above the 25 per cent limit agreed by the Office of Fair Trading.

Besides representatives of agency and client trade bodies, the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising and Incorporated Society of British Advertisers, Pedigree Masterfoods media manager Laurence Haselhurst and Bernard Balderston, media manager of Procter & Gamble, are expected to be involved in formulating the advertisers’ response.

The Billett Consultancy, the media auditor, has written to clients to express concern about the merger. Chief executive John Billett has told advertisers: “There is nothing in the plans that gives us any confidence that your best interests are being considered, let alone protected.”

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