Back in the 1950s the late Canadian media tycoon Lord Roy Thomson notoriously called his Scottish ITV franchise "a licence to print money".

Not so in 2004. Fifty years on, increased competition and fragmentation of Britain's commercial TV market means that even ITV, whose arrogance until recently rivalled that of George Nathaniel Curzon, must labour to retain its diminishing share of the advertising pound.

Which explains why ITV chief executive Charles Allen, a former accountant, is so anxious to cut himself a slice of the BBC's publicly funded licence income.

At issue is the public service broadcasting requirement -- regional news, arts coverage, religious programming, and the like -- imposed by the government on the commercial TV companies and currently provided at their expense.

Addressing the House of Commons cross-party committee for Culture, Media and Sport, Allen urged that the money to fund public service broadcasting by commercial terrestrial stations should be "top-sliced" from the BBC licence fee or come from the public purse.

He called for detailed contracts between broadcast regulator Ofcom and the major TV companies, including the BBC. These contracts would ensure broadcasters receive appropriate financial rewards for meeting the criteria detailed in their contract -- or are punished with fines for failing to do so.

"The BBC should be contracted to provide a series of services. ITV, Channel 4 and channel Five should also be contracted. In a digital world, I think that's how you preserve public service broadcasting," Allen told the committee.

Under such a scheme ITV and other commercial TV operators would supply programming that would not be otherwise be provided in a free market. But Channel 4 and Five have already given a thumbs-down to top slicing, arguing it would dilute rather than improve standards of public service broadcasting.

Data sourced from:; additional content by WARC staff