I love television. I really do. Both selling it and watching it. But, when I read people like NestlÃ©’s Andrew Harrison or Concord’s Nigel Mansell (MW last week) questioning TV’s ability to deliver to advertisers, I am struck by a sense of incredulity.
How can Harrison say retailers are a better way to reach his audience? I don’t hear much chat about supermarket gondolas in many of the everyday conversations I have. Nor, in reference to Mansell’s comments about outdoor, do I hear much about poster sites.
But look at Popstars, I’m a Celebrity…, the Champions League, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? or Footballers’ Wives – these are brands that live and breathe. And these are all programmes on ITV1, a station that is currently – supposedly – on its uppers.
ITV is so much on its uppers that, in the year to date, it has delivered a “paltry” 43.5 per cent of all adult impacts and taken a “derisory” 54 per cent of the money in the TV market. Some uppers.
Who wouldn’t die for a market position like that? In truth, ITV is still unbelievably strong. That is why it has to be regulated – to ensure it doesn’t unfairly exploit its market position.
Here, two things greatly concern me. First, it has been reported (wrongly) that the Independent Television Commission (ITC) has given the green light to pan-ITV deals as a result of its investigation into the Unilever deal.
The ITC has done nothing of the sort. What it has said is that the individual deals done with Unilever by Carlton and Granada were not done in collusion. They were done independently. The ITC also reiterated that, for now and for the foreseeable future, whole-ITV deals are still banned.
This brings me to my second concern. There is a quaint notion doing the rounds that, although ITV is specifically prohibited from trading as one entity, maybe their sales backrooms could be merged, leaving the sales pe
ople unencumbered, to compete tooth and nail.
I have never heard such arrant nonsense. It’s like suggesting that you can separate brain and body and that both will still function perfectly normally in isolation. They won’t. Just as brain and body functions are inextricably linked, so Carlton and Granada cannot be distanced from their backrooms. Consequently, if the backrooms merged, Carlton and Granada would know everything about each other’s business. They would be as one. Their knowledge and, as a result their power, would be greatly enhanced. It is ludicrous to think otherwise.
For all its current problems, ITV is still a powerhouse. Put all that power in one set of hands through sales backroom manipulation and it could use its dominance to distort the market.
Front-line sales and the backroom are inextricably linked. Either ITV is allowed to merge, lock stock and barrel, or it isn’t. Until then, merger by stealth cannot be allowed. There is no halfway house.
Andy Barnes is commercial director of Channel 4