WPP’s GroupM Entertainment accused of wielding too much power over TV programmes as well as ads

Regulators around the world may be fretting over the media power that will be commanded by the merger of Omnicom and Publicis (40 per cent of the ad media market in some instances) but it’s the allegedly over-mighty GroupM, owned by WPP, that’s currently taking the flack in the UK.

GroupM controls about a third of the UK ad market which led it into a dispute with Channel 4 last year and led Channel 5 owner Richard Desomd to criticise its growing power at the recent Royal Television Society conference.

Now John McVay, CEO of indie producer trade body PACT, has said that GroupM Entertainment, which invests in programmes and makes money from selling them around the world, is a threat to independent programming. GroupM supplies a large chunk of programme money to Desmond’s C5 among others.

McVay says:“If they [start to] control so much of the schedule it could affect the ability of someone like Channel 5 to fulfil their public service duties,” he said. “There is a threat to the public service system.”

Former Carlton TV sales director Martin Bowley added: “GroupM are all powerful. If [a broadcaster] falls out with them they not only take their airtime advertising away, but also part of the schedule.”

For its part GroupM says that producers don’t need to take its money – which is rather missing the point. Clearly there’s a danger to free expression when a company whose primary purpose is to serve its clients (advertisers) has so much power over editorial content. What would happen if a commercial network decided to make a programme that was critical of GroupM, WPP or boss Sir Martin Sorrell?

The official answer, of course, would be nothing. But that’s not quite the way these things work in practice.

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About Stephen Foster

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Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.