MEDIA: This week the doors open for cross-media ownership

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.

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

far away.



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.



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