Connolly: insists on being last resort
David Connolly, the new adjudicator for Ofcom - whose role will be to referee airtime sales negotiations between ITV Sales and agencies - vowed this week to rule with authority.
Speaking at the final briefing on the Contract Rights Renewal remedy to both broadcasters and agencies, Connolly said: "Does the adjudicator have teeth? I can assure you that he has. I fully intend to carry out my duties without bias."
Connolly, the former vicechairman of Starcom Motive who was appointed to the role two weeks ago, expects it to be a full-time job initially - despite the fact it was advertised as a three-day-week role.
"At the moment it's looking like a seven-day-week job, and will remain full-time until further notice," he said.
His role was created by Ofcom to reassure agencies and rival broadcasters that ITV will not be able to abuse its dominant position in the television market, following the merger of Carlton and Granada and the formation of a single ITV sales house.
It will be his job to rule on deals drawn up between ITV and agencies, and to decide whether they are fair and reasonable.
Connolly is looking to recruit a deputy and a number of other staff for his office, but warned that timewasters would not be tolerated and hinted that agencies and broadcast directors continually complaining about the minutiae of their deals would be hit with a fine.
"We're not going to entertain any complaints [about negotiations] until everyone's had a right good go at it," he said.
"The adjudicator's office should not form part of your negotiation process. It should not start with a feisty initial meeting with ITV and then your filling out a dispute form and waving it at them as you leave the building."
Connolly said he will spend the next few weeks listening to agencies, broadcasters and industry bodies and putting in place the formal process by which agencies will be able to complain should they feel they are being dealt with unfairly by ITV.
"Both Carlton and Granada know the rules and they know they have to abide by them," Connolly said. "Similarly, the agencies realise with CRR that it provides them with a huge insurance policy and I hope that between the two they will have reasonably good negotiations."
Far from being bombarded with questions after the session, Connolly and his colleagues had to squeeze queries out of the crowd. Although insiders say this is because agencies and broadcasters have had most of their questions answered, other dissenting voices said it is because they don't intend to use the adjudicator.
"They're a bunch of cowards," said an insider. "And shame on them if 80% of them don't go to the adjudicator, which is what I expect will happen."
Another sales director disagreed: "We've all had so much time with Ofcom in the last few months that if anyone had asked a question in that forum they'd have looked stupid."