With the lofty confidence born of a 46-year incumbency, Independent Television News described as a "ragbag partnership" the rival consortium recruited by BSkyB to bid for the ITV network’s news franchise.

The current franchise, held unchallenged by ITN since UK commercial television was launched in 1955, will expire at the end of next year. Pitching against ITN will be a newly formed consortium comprising Rupert Murdoch’s barnstorming satellite broadcaster BSkyB, American network CBS, Ulster Television, Bloomberg and the Chrysalis Group.

A spoke for the yet to be named consortium said yesterday that the first step in its bid is to apply to the Independent Television Commission to become a ‘nominated news provider’. "Our group believes there should be a strong element of healthy competition when the next ITV news supply contract is decided,” continued the spoke. “ Indeed we understand that ITV would welcome such competition.”

ITN, which is owned by Granada Media, Carlton Communications, United Business Media, Daily Mail & General Trust and Reuters Group, dismissed its new rival with patrician disdain: "Sky has been touting around for potential partners for months. After all their efforts they've ended up with two tiny UK broadcasters and two cost-cutting American operators. It's a rag-bag partnership crafted from desperation."

ITN described as "ironic" the timing of the consortium’s announcement, just one day after ITN's News At Ten ratings triumph against the BBC. The relaunched bulletin, back in its old slot this week, attracted over eight million viewers on Monday according to unofficial overnight figures - almost twice as many as those who watched the BBC's bulletin at the same time.

News source: BBC Online Business News (UK)