Media: Fair shares in multiple markets

HOW can cross-media rules be relaxed to encourage media companies to grow and straddle TV, newspapers, magazines and radio without creating unacceptable monopolies, or allowing Rupert Murdoch to move into ITV? Thus goes one of the fears underlying the review being finalised by the Department of National Heritage.

An interesting paper sent to the department by the media consultant Richard Hooper, a non-executive director of MAI, and a key influence on Lord Hollick's thinking (see left), suggests a new methodology for defining and measuring media markets.

He says the markets for television (including cable and satellite), radio and newspapers should be divided into national, regional and local sectors. There would be between 12 and 20 regional markets and 50 local markets such as cities the size of Glasgow.

The review would simply measure how much newspaper circulation, share of television viewing and share of radio listening a company had in each market in order to meet the public policy objective of ensuring a diversity of view. This could be reinforced with the traditional Office of Fair Trading 'rule' setting a 25 per cent market ceiling whether it is share of advertising or other income.

The paper suggests that local and regional market shares should include all newspaper circulation (national newspapers, where Murdoch controls a 34 per cent share of the national market, makes up 19.6 per cent of the total UK newspaper market) and all radio listening.

Simple market share rules would say that no media company could control more than X per cent of the combined market share of radio, television and newspapers in these three defined market areas.

Setting X would be the key political decision. To reach a company's market share, all three figures would be added. (That means that the BBC, with a 42 per cent TV share and 50 per cent radio share, would breach it and would probably allow ITV companies holding two franchises currently some scope for growth).

The setting of X could allow for different weightings for television and newspapers because they are more powerful than radio.

The paper suggests tentatively that 8 per cent could be the maximum dominance for combined national markets (scope for 12 media barons), 15 per cent for individual regions, and 25 per cent for local markets.

The paper also suggests that new media operators can be encouraged by ensuring that existing large cable and satellite operators, such as BSkyB, cannot discriminate against new channels through control of decoders and subscription management systems.