02 June 2000

Any bid by Granada Group for United News & Media – or the enlarged company formed by the latter's intended merger with Carlton Communications – would not necessitate the sale of UN&M’s Express Newspapers, the Independent Television Commission ruled yesterday

The watchdog’s public interest ruling was triggered last year by United's proposed £8bn merger with Carlton which, if successful, would create the UK's biggest commercial broadcaster. However, the proposed deal runs counter to the ambitions of Granada’s chief executive Gerry Robinson, who has threatened to rain on the parade by launching a counter bid for one or another of the would-be partners.

According to sources close to all three companies, the ITC ruling is important, but far from crucial, to the success of any of the proposed deals. Much more critical is the awaited decision from the Competition Commission – currently examining the implications of the consolidation of ITV. The key issue here is the volume of TV advertising controlled by a merged ITV group – the mooted UN&M/Carlton merger would account for some 35%, far beyond the present 20% limit.

Trade Secretary Stephen Byers is expected to announce the commission’s decision in July. In the light of this, Granada will decide which of the two companies to target with a counter-bid.

News source: The Times (London)