There’ll be a few shivers going round the UK TV industry at the news that Cabinet office Minister Francis Maude is floating the idea of running some of the Government’s ad campaigns on the BBC free of charge.
The advertising would be very worthy stuff of course: publicising next year’s Census plus warnings against smoking, obesity, excessive drinking et al, rather than rousing choruses praising the wisdom and perspicacity of the Grand Coalition.
Indeed some viewers might welcome a break from the BBC’s daily blitz of trailers, which make even Kerry Katona’s Iceland promos seem quiet and reasoned.
But ITV will be spitting tacks at the idea that it could lose millions of ad revenue to what it and many others regard as a bloated, featherbedded corporation, sailing through the recession with the £3 billion-plus licence fee securely nesting in its back pocket.
There will also be worries that once you get a few commercials on the BBC, some bright spark in George Osborne's Treasury will revive the idea of the Corporation taking ads on some of its more popular or upmarket channels so as to slash rather than just freeze the troublesome licence fee.
While superficially attractive to bean counters, this wouldn’t just destroy the ecology of UK broadcasting, where there’s a range of choice, from digital shopping or dating channels through to the strictly non-advertising BBC TV and radio output.
It would also destroy ITV’s business model by reducing its ad revenue by about two-thirds and turn it into a kind of Channel Five-lite, ready to be snapped up by Richard Desmond or maybe even David Sullivan.
ITV chief Adam Crozier is probably picking up the phone to his army of lobbyists right now, in preparation for a pre-emptive campaign aimed at kicking Maude’s idea into touch as soon as possible.