This is the week that the provisions of the new Broadcasting Act really
start to bite. The Independent Television Commission is advertising the
licences for those who aspire to run digital terrestrial television
multiplexes - the original reason for the legislation.
But Friday 1 November also ushers in the new cross-media ownership
rules, the formal starting point for more ITV mergers, link-ups between
print, radio and television, and consolidation within sectors, such as
commercial radio. Which quite naturally leads on to the big question:
What will the media map look like in a year’s time?
The consensus among regulators and media consultants is that the impact
of the legislation will not be that great: more of a mopping up exercise
than anything else. This is based on the view that the biggest deals in
ITV have already been done, creating the three power bases:
Granada/LWT, Carlton/Central and Meridian/Anglia, and that the prices of
the seven smaller ITV companies have become too inflated to represent
worthy business opportunities.
But what seems to be happening is that the new laws are encouraging a
small group of aggressive media operators to push hard to exploit every
opportunity to the utmost. Over at Carlton Michael Green may appear to
slumber, but at United News and Media Lord Hollick becomes more daring
by the day.
I think the overall map is going to look significantly different, as
companies carve out regional as well as sectoral bases, and attempt to
use their sales forces for the first time, across different media. For
example, GWR, once just a local radio company based in Swindon is
clearly on the make with its ambitious pounds 71 million takeover of
Classic FM. GWR has also hinted at its future ambitions by letting it be
known that it might have considered bidding for Westcountry, the
Plymouth-based ITV licence holder.
Radio is clearly going to be one of the most active sectors: I’d expect
at least one other national commercial franchise - Virgin Radio most
probably - to change hands. And owners of regional papers - Associated
Newspapers is in the vanguard here - intend to buy up radio stations in
their circulation areas, to achieve local domination, perhaps with the
addition of cable. A merger between Live TV and Channel One cannot be
STV, through its purchase of The Glasgow Herald publisher, Caledonian,
and subsequent sale of HTV has signalled its determination to build a
multi-media empire, playing the Scottish card as hard as it can. It is
the obvious candidate to mop up the small Grampian ITV.
All this is happening, even before significant European investors show
their hands. No-one operating at any level in the media can expect
anything but constant change.