The expected takeover frenzy among ITV companies could begin as soon as
the Broadcasting Bill receives royal assent at the end of this month.
Theoretically, companies will have to wait until three months after the
bill is given royal assent before they can put their acquisition plans
into effect. However, a loophole means that they may be able to make
their moves three months earlier than anticipated.
Companies can contravene the rules and pounce on their targets by
warehousing any shares they have in other ITV stations - or media
companies - that would take them above the 25 per cent legal limit
(Campaign, 17 May).
Warehousing is to be outlawed to prevent such rule-bending, but the
relevant clause is an amendment to the bill and will only come into
effect when the bill is passed in full in three months’ time.
The warehousing system was used by MAI when it merged with United News
and Media earlier this year. The merged operation’s newspaper interests,
which include Express Newspapers, are warehoused in a deadlocked company
until the Broadcasting Bill makes such cross-media ownership legal.
With the bill due to finish its parliamentary passage in the House of
Lords this week, media companies already know what they will be able to
own under the new rules. Because warehousing is still allowed until the
bill becomes law, there is no reason for them to delay their purchasing
United News and Media, Carlton and Granada are all thought to be
planning further media expansions once the bill has been passed.