It’s a done deal bar the shouting … and the opposition of Britain's top advertisers … and agencies … and TV rivals. To say nothing of rigorous scrutiny both by the Independent Television Commission and the Competition Commission.
As reported earlier this week [WAMN: 14-Oct-02], Carlton Communications and Granada Media have been burning the midnight oil to hammer out the financial terms of their merger – and on Wednesday they shook hands on the £2.6 billion ($4.04bn; €4.11bn) deal. This will see Granada shareholders collaring the lion’s share (68%) of a combined company with Carlton investors holding the residual 32%.
The union faces many hurdles. Not only are the buyers of advertising – clients and their agencies – hostile to the concept of a single sales operation for the entire ITV network, which would command 55% of all UK viewing. They are disturbed at the concentration of such power in the hands of a single organization –as are ITV’s rivals.
In such circumstances it seem unlikely that the Competition Commission will harbour warm feelings toward the merger. At best, some competition lawyers believe, the chances of approval are “only 50/50”. As Carlton and Granada are only too well aware.
Says the companies' joint statement: “Granada and Carlton will be discussing with the regulators appropriate arrangements for the sale of airtime by the merged group which, to the extent necessary, may extend to a separate sales organisation.”
Under present rules no one broadcaster is permitted to control more than 15% of the commercial TV audience; nor may it own both London ITV licences. Which means that the merger – even if approved by competition watchdogs – must await the relaxation of ownership rules provided for in the Communications Bill, currently in passage through Parliament and due to become law in the latter part of 2003.
If the bill is passed as it now stands – and if the regulators greenlight the marriage – Carlton’s broadcasting licences and its 20% stake in the ITN news service would be transferred to a separate company, which would then merge with the rest of the newly created broadcasting behemoth, ITV plc.
Quoth a messianic Michael Green, chairman extant of Carlton and chairman designate of ITV plc: “One ITV has been a vision long in the making. One company, with one management and one focus can now set its sights firmly on beating the opposition and giving viewers and advertisers what they want.
“I want this merger to mean great television programmes and the strongest possible schedule. We must make sure that it does just that.”
• And so it came to pass, also on Wednesday, that the burden of fulfilling Green’s lofty ambitions came to rest on the unproven shoulders of Nigel Pickard (50), appointed that day as ITV’s new director of programming.
Replacing David Liddiment, who recently quit after five years in the hotseat, Pickard’s name is not the first that comes to the mind of many in the industry as a programmer for all seasons.
Currently the head of BBC children’s programmes, most of Pickard’s career has been spent in kids’ television, variously with one ITV company or another until his move to the BBC two years ago.
Fears have already been voiced by insiders that his lack of drama experience could prove a serious disadvantage to the embattled network from which viewers are currently defecting in droves.
Data sourced from: MediaGuardian.co.uk; additional content by WARC staff