Time Warner, the planet's largest media company, has trained its sights on ITV, Britain's prime commercial TV network, the Mail on Sunday reported this weekend.

Circling the predator and its prey are the usual scavengers, eager to feast on the remnants - in this case US investment bank Goldman Sachs and London-headquartered venture capital group Apax Partners.

Citing "city sources", the MoS reports that the trio is mulling a bid in the region of £1.65 a share, valuing the broadcaster at around £6.6 billion ($11.69bn; €9.77bn).

Advising Apax is former BBC director general Greg Dyke, who dutifully fell on his sword in 2004 after publication of the notoriously monocular Hutton Report on the BBC's critical reportage of the government's now-discredited Iraq 'weapons of mass destruction' dossier.

But apart from his relatively short-lived stint at the BBC, Dyke is an unreconstructed commercial TV spirit with a long history in ad-funded TV - and several old scores to settle with ITV chief executive Charles Allen.

The latter's personal standing - somewhat battered of late - received a major boost last week when media regulator Ofcom cut by £135m the amount ITV pays for its broadcasting licences to £85m this year, reducing to zero by 2012 when the analogue signal will be switched off [WAMN: 30-Jun-05].

Speculation over ITV's future has been rife since the Blair administration shoehorned its Communications Bill through parliament in fall 2003.

Among its many Big Media-friendly gestures, the bill swept away a ban on ownership by non-EU corporations of UK television companies - opening wide the door for a US takeover of ITV. Viacom and News Corporation have also been cited as possible US-domiciled bidders.

If Time Warner decides to make its move on ITV, many onlookers believe it unlikely the latter duo will stand idly by while TW and its acolytes drag the prey into their lair.

Data sourced from The Mail on Sunday (UK); additional content by WARC staff