The Independent Television Commission revealed Wednesday it is to probe Britain's largest ever ad deal, struck in May between the ITV network and household products and foods giant Unilever [WAMN: 27-May-02].

“We are just assessing the situation to see if it raises any concerns about fair and effective competition in the market,” said an ITC spokesperson.

The four year agreement commits a number of Unilever units – among them Birds Eye Wall’s, Lever Faberge, Unilever Cosmetics International and Unilever Bestfoods – to given expenditures with the network in return for a reported 25% discount on ratecard prices.

The ITC’s intervention is said to be at the behest of a commercial TV rival which questioned they way the deal was done – especially in light of the current rule that ITV’s dominant duo, Carlton Communications and Granada Media, must not jointly sell their airtime. Nor may any member of the network require advertisers to commit a given share of their ad budgets to ITV

Hands aloft in pious indignation, the three parties (plus Initiative Media which brokered the agreement) deny any collusion. The deal, they insist, was arrived at via separate and independent negotiations.

Says Simon Pardon, managing director of Granada Enterprises: “Granada reached independent terms of business with Unilever, that have no impact on any money spent with Carlton.” Carlton sales director Gary Digby made similar noises.

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