Govt watchdog hears new ITV merger plans

The prospect of a single ITV sales house remains a possibility with the announcement that the Competition Commission is considering possible merger remedies from Carlton and Granada.

However, the industry faces up to three months of uncertainty as the Commission is likely to take extra time to consider the new proposals.

The Commission has the option to extend its investigation into the merger once, for a maximum of three months, and it can make this decision at any point up until the night before its report is due.

It was due to make its recommendation to the Department of Trade and Industry secretary, Patricia Hewitt, on 25 June but it is now considered likely that this will be extended to September to allow further consultation with interested parties on Granada and Carlton's new proposals.

In a statement, the Commission said: "Subsequent to our remedy statement, we have received a number of proposals for remedies which we are considering. If the group would consider it necessary to consult on these, given the proximity of the reporting date, we may seek an extension."

ITV's possible remedies are behavioural rather than structural and are thought to include the introduction of a new trading mechanism that would tie advertising rates to audience levels but would not lead to the scrapping of station average price. The industry is unclear how exactly this mechanism would work.

Jim Marshall, the chairman of the IPA Media Futures Group, vowed to continue his fight against a consolidated sales point. "From an IPA perspective, the fundamental issue is a competition one. One ITV sales house will give them a monopoly in the marketplace," he said.

Meanwhile, the venture capitalist Apax has emerged as a potential buyer for ITV. It has had conversations with the billionaire Power Rangers magnate, Haim Saban, regarding a possible bid.