Connolly will need his wits about him

Meet the new adjudicator, symbol of a rapidly changing media buying landscape. He is David Connolly, former vice-chairman of Starcom Motive and sometime media director of Leo Burnett, group head of IDK Media and Scottish Television salesman. He even has a little experience in magazines and newspapers.

The more well-rounded the better, because from December 1 he will be called upon to employ all his experience and all his judicious independence in charting the treacherous territory of the post-merger ITV sales and buying environment. And he won’t have much of a map or compass to help him.

Of course, that’s not the line emanating from Connolly’s direct paymaster, Ofcom. The new regulator would have us believe adjudicating is a rather boring, almost bureaucratic three-day-a-week role, a court of occasional and almost last appeal. Connolly himself says: ‘I believe the breadth and depth of [the contract rights renewal (CRR) remedy] protections are likely to ensure that disagreements are few in number.’ A pious hope, perhaps, but certainly an unproven one.

Institutionally – it’s true – the adjudicator looks well insulated from pressure. Though Ofcom pays him, that is merely a convenience: the &£100,000 will actually be levied by the regulator from ITV. ITV is unlikely to bully an all-powerful regulator in the way it might seek to influence a direct employee. Moreover, where the TV sales side is concerned, Connolly will have access to any relevant information on request. He is not beholden to Ofcom, and in the event of a dispute his decision will be binding on the ITV sales house (and currently the regime run by Granada and Carlton). On the buying side, there is a little more room for manoeuvre, because disgruntled advertisers and media buyers will have the right to appeal to Ofcom and the law courts if required. But only under special circumstances.

In fact, the stress of the adjudicator’s workload will be determined by the degree of trust placed by all interested parties in the new framework of rules known as the CRR remedy. To the extent that it is well-oiled and flexible, his role will be relatively straightforward. But what if it is not? What if the rules turn out to be academic and ill-thought out? Then the adjudicator will find himself drawn into a deepening quagmire, which may test his personal qualities to the limit. Far from being a ‘backstop’ (as Ofcom would have it) he will find himself in the front line. The industry has already signalled the importance it attaches to the adjudicator’s role in the ruckus created by the so-called Billett affair (in which John Billett was presumed to have undue influence over the choice of candidate, probably wrongly). While no doubt wishing for a smooth transition to the new regime, advertisers and media buyers would still be well advised to test the system – simply to reassure themselves that the adjudicator is no paper tiger.

At least Connolly can be reassured of one thing. The privileged information acquired while exercising his unique new role will make him a sought-after figure in the job market.

Media, page 12

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