The advertising industry yesterday attacked the Government's decision to order a two-month extension of the Granada-Carlton merger inquiry to allow the regulatory authorities time to consult on "behavioural remedies" to the competition concerns thrown up by the deal.
The Competition Commission had been due to report on 25 June but will now have until 26 August to deliver its final report to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Patricia Hewitt. An initial "remedies statement" issued by the Commission in May raised the possibility of Granada and Carlton having to dispose of both of their advertising sales houses in order to gain approval for the merger.
But yesterday, the Commission said it was consulting on two further behavioural remedies put to it by the two ITV companies themselves. One involves auctioning off a minimum proportion of airtime each year and trading it on a secondary market. The second would allow advertisers to keep their current terms and conditions, probably for a three-year period, and reduce the amount of airtime they buy without penalty if ITV's audience share declines.
The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) criticised the proposed behavioural remedies. Jim Marshall of the media buying company MediaVest and chairman of the IPA's policy forum, said: "A combined ITV will represent an uncompetitive degree of power. We would prefer to see structural changes rather than behavioural remedies. ...The market place has to be regulated by competition not a complex set of trading rules."