ITV to fight American bids as plan for growth unveiled

LONDON - ITV says it will fight off any American takeover bid as a seven-point plan for growth is unveiled, which will see a series of new channels launched, including an ITV Gold, and a commitment to more format-based shows.

The plan is unveiled in an interview in The Sunday Times with Charles Allen and Michael Green, who are taking up the posts of chief executive and chairman respectively of the soon-to-be-merged ITV.

The announcement of the plans to grow ITV follows the green-lighting of the £4bn merger last week by the trade and industry secretary Patricia Hewitt. The decision, although expected, surprised some because it included very few conditions.

On Friday, the senior management line-up of the new ITV was confirmed, with three out of the top four positions going to Granada men Mick Desmond, Simon Shaps and Graham Parrott, while Henry Staunton, yet another Granada man, will become finance director.

Desmond, chief executive of Granada Broadcasting & Enterprises and current joint managing director of ITV with Clive Jones, becomes chief executive of ITV broadcasting and enterprises. Carlton TV chief executive Jones takes on the role of chief executive of news.

Allen and Green told the paper that they will work closely together and will fight off any American takeover bid by implementing a seven-point plan.

At last month's Royal Television Society conference in Cambridge, Carlton and Granada rejected overtures from US media giants Viacom and 'Power Rangers' billionaire Haim Saban, which both said that they would be interested in bidding for a merged ITV.

Green, currently chairman of Carlton, said he did not think that such a move was on the cards and told The Sunday Times: "We intend to keep adding value, and when something is reflecting the true value, it is less vulnerable."

A key part of the plan for growth will be the promise to develop more format shows such as the very successful 'I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here', which did well for Granada in terms of international sales.

The third growth point is to turn ITV into a multichannel broadcaster and expand the number of channels on offer to something more like the BBC, which has developed a slew of digital channels on its own and under the UKTV banner with Flextech.

Green and Allen said that it was the success of ITV2 that has pointed the way to the launch of an ITV Gold channel, with a likely tie-up with a children's network to launch a children's channel, which is unlikely to be called ITV Kids.

However, ITV says a reorganisation of its news operation is key to the new plan, which will include the safeguarding of regional news.

The paper said that the fourth commitment is to continue as a broadcaster and a producer of quality television shows. Along with its concentration on format television, the new ITV will also build on creating more big viewer "banker" programmes like 'Coronation Street'.

Allen told the paper that point five was about focusing on the commercial side of the business: "We need to get everyone in the organisation focused on delivering commercial impact."

The sixth point is about focusing on the development of new talent and technology, while point seven of the growth plan calls for ITV to lobby the government to do away with regulations that force ITV to £300m for its licence.

There will also be a strong focus on news, but with the disastrous shuffling around of 'News at Ten', which is now moving permanently to a 10.30pm slot, few will take this very seriously.

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