Ofcom has paved the way for Channel 4, Five and BSkyB to merge their sales divisions after it withdrew the Independent Television Commission's ban on the joint selling of airtime.
The decision, which brings to end the final stage of the ITV merger, will enable broadcasters with more than 5% of net advertising revenue in the UK TV market to collaborate and sell their airtime in joint packages.
Channel 4 currently has a market share of 20%, Sky has 11% while five has an 8%. Ofcom will automatically investigate any merger that creates a joint division with a market share of over 25%. However, Ofcom also stated that it would be prepared to investigate smaller mergers, such as one between Sky and Five.
C4 welcomed the ruling but dismissed any prospective union with BSkyB or five. A spokesman said: 'It made no sense to keep these rules in place after the Carlton and Granada merger had been approved. We believe competition law will be an adequate defence against market dominance. However, we have no plans at present to change the basis on which we sell our airtime.'
Despite the ruling, the three broadcasters aren't thought to be close to merging their sales operations.
One media buyer said: 'It's unlikely that any merger will happen because C4, Five and Sky have such different business models. The only way I can see it happening is if Rupert Murdoch buys a share of Five.'