Channel 4’s ad spat with Publicis shows difficulties facing traditional media in a digital world

The UK’s Channel 4, a minority station in terms of audience share but, publicly-owned, part of the UK’s broadcast establishment, is at loggerheads with Publicis Media over a 2019 sales deal.

Publicis spends about £125m a year with C4 and C4, as most broadcasters do, wants to tie prices to the amount Publicis spends with it. Publicis, which hasn’t said anything on the record so far, is said to want to tie prices to audience share.

This is a problem for C4 which doesn’t deliver very big audiences – 5-6 per cent of the total TV audience max – although it has a historic strength in delivering supposedly hard-to-reach younger audiences. These, though, are exactly the people migrating to Netflix and other subscription or free online services.

Six years ago C4 had a similar spat with WPP which was eventually resolved.

Publicis UK’s media clients include Lidl, Samsung and Visa although the biggest, Procter & Gamble, has its own deal with C4 so shouldn’t be affected.

No advertiser likes to see their ads disappear from a main medium although it’s hard to argue that the price for these should not be tied to audience delivery, as long as this isn’t an opportunity for media agency bullying.

But C4, faced with a government instruction to move many of its activities outside London, needs to fight its corner to remain a viable independent broadcasting force. Otherwise the dreaded prospect of privatisation will rear its head again.

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