UK Ad Industry Incensed At Dearth of ITV Consultation Time

06 November 2003

The Office of Fair Trading stands accused of paying mere lip service to advertisers' concerns over the imminent merger of Britain's two largest commercial TV broadcasters, Carlton Communications and Granada Media to form ITV plc.

Earlier this week it came to light that some two hundred responses from advertisers and agencies have been filed with the OFT - for which the competition regulator has allowed just three days to analyse, digest and compile its final recommendations as to the working of a Contract Rights Renewal mechanism.

A month ago trade and industry secretary Patricia Hewitt gave the ITV duo until November 7 to agree the CRR mechanism with the Office of Fair Trading, the Independent Television Commission and communications super-regulator designate Ofcom (which assumes its far-reaching powers in January). The CRR must meet three main conditions:

• First: Advertisers and media buyers must be able to renew their current contracts with no increase in the share of spend they apportion to Carlton/Granada and no decrease in the discounts they receive.

• Second: Carlton/Granada must agree to an automatic 'ratchet', allowing advertisers to reduce their spend if ITV's audience shrinks.

• Third: Ofcom and the ITC will appoint an adjudicator to resolve disputes between advertisers and Carlton/Granada.

Advertisers and agencies, however, were given only six working days to respond to the CRR proposals and the sheer volume of their response has inundated the OFT. But the watchdog has not sought extra time to consider this flood of feedback, triggering furious accusations that it is paying lip service to advertisers' concerns.

Complains Nick Theakstone, head of investment at media network MindShare: "It's apparent that the OFT is merely going through the motions, so it can say that we have all been consulted, when in fact we are being ignored. ITV has had three months of input into CRR."

Data sourced from: BrandRepublic (UK); additional content by WARC staff