The reality of a world-class case of empty words

WHEN RIVAL businesses decide to merge so as to control markets rather than to compete, as two TV companies did last week, they naturally try to disguise what is going on. Carlton and Central TV on the one side, and Meridian, Anglia and HTV on the other, nowhere stated what must be one of the main reasons for coming together: to raise TV advertising rates. After all, as the parties together would have 36 per cent of the television advertising market, it wouldn't be difficult.

Dazzled as we are by the glamour of the tycoons who run the two companies - Michael Green with his personal fortune of more than pounds 100m, and Clive Hollick with his title (Lord Hollick of Notting Hill) and his friendship with the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer - this central issue can easily be missed. In the accounts of the deal in Saturday's papers, it was left to anonymous executives of advertising agencies to make the point.

Moreover, there are barriers to market concentration which, on the face of it, should make it impossible for the two groups to combine. In 1994 the ITV companies gave an undertaking to the Office of Fair Trading that no single unit would control more than 25 per cent of the market, a line that would be far exceeded. And the Broadcasting Act imposes a limit of 15 per cent on the share of television viewers. While Green and Hollick calculate that luckily their combined group would fall short with a 14.9 per cent share, this is surely too close. If the deal went through, the combined group would be fighting to increase its proportion.

However, as Rupert Murdoch has often demonstrated, such anti-monopoly regulations are easily got round. Government ministers have already indicated that these old limits are due for fresh consideration if not revision. It is all part of being friendly to business. Now Green and Hollick are forcing the issue. The statements made with the announcement of the merger terms had this end in mind. They were aspirational rather than factual. And they were careful to include three fashionable notions - world class, digital and the Internet.

So Hollick said the two companies would be creating a "world-class" broadcasting group. What does "world class" actually mean? Sometimes it is a shorthand way of saying "among the best in the world". In this sense, Cambridge University is a "world-class" institution.

I hardly think that anything in the empires of Michael Green and Clive Hollick is world class in this sense. When we watch Carlton's output, or Central TV, which was fined a record pounds 2m by the Independent Television Commission for making a programme that involved a "wholesale breach of trust between programme makers and viewers", we don't have a sense that we are experiencing the best in the world. Nor when we read the publications put out by Hollick's Express Newspapers. Alternatively "world class" can indicate "able to compete with the best in the world".

The Rolls-Royce aero-engine business is obviously such an operation, but two domestic TV companies, even when combined into one big group? Broadcasting is not an international activity unless the output comprises a 24-hour news service. Making TV programmes which are sold all over the world would be a "world class" undertaking. But even the much bigger BBC, with all its prestige and international standing, has only limited success as an exporter or licenser of programmes abroad.

No, for Green and Hollick "world class" are empty words, a dream not a reality. This language is designed to make government ministers feel that they are doing the right thing if they ease the rules governing competition. Digital technology comes into the equation through Carlton's half share in the new digital service, On Digital. Here the argument is that the bigger group, comprising more than half the ITV network as it would do, together with the Express newspaper interests, would be able to push On Digital much harder that it can at present.

But one only has to spell this out to see that it is not particularly plausible. The promise of cross marketing success when companies come together in a merger is often hard to realise. In any case On Digital already has Granada behind it (Carlton's existing partner in the venture). The hopes expressed by Green and Hollick are worthy, the statements of intent are not obviously wrong but, finally, does it add up to anything substantial?

The trick with the third fashionable notion, the Internet, is to contrive to link it to everything else a company is doing. It is like an incantation or magic spell that is supposed to turn everything into gold. Thus Hollick said that "bringing free and pay television programme making and the Internet together in one company creates huge potential". Indeed, it could do. Both newspaper readers and television station viewers can be directed towards company web sites in numbers so large that e-commerce transactions become viable. And as publishers of news and of sports programmes, the merged group would have a substantial amount of content to place on its web sites.

So this is the equation for government ministers. On the one hand, the proposed merger would create a monopoly position in TV advertising, enabling higher prices to be charged to retailers, which in turn would be passed on to consumers. On the other hand the deal would enable two medium-sized media companies to make a better go of Internet trading than otherwise might have been the case.

That is it. And the answer is obvious. No.

Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Len Goodman appeared to mutter the F-word after Simon Webbe's Strictly performance

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T makes his long-awaited return to the London stage
musicReview: Alexandra Palace, London
Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 back in 2001 when they also supported 'Children in Need'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth rejoins Tess Daly to host the Strictly Come Dancing Children in Need special
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan plays Christian Grey getting ready for work

Film More romcom than S&M

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Review: The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
The comedian Daniel O'Reilly appeared contrite on BBC Newsnight last night

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
The American stand-up Tig Notaro, who performed topless this week

Comedy...to show her mastectomy scars

Arts and Entertainment

TVNetflix gets cryptic

Arts and Entertainment
Claudia Winkleman is having another week off Strictly to care for her daughter
TV
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Children in Need is the BBC's UK charity. Since 1980 it has raised over £600 million to change the lives of disabled children and young people in the UK

TV review A moving film showing kids too busy to enjoy their youth

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his winning novel

Books Not even a Man Booker prize could save Richard Flanagan from a nomination

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

    Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

    Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
    The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

    The young are the new poor

    Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
    Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

    Greens on the march

    ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
    Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

    Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

    Through the stories of his accusers
    Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

    The Meaning of Mongol

    Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

    The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
    Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
    Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

    Flogging vlogging

    First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

    US channels wage comedy star wars
    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

    When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible