ITV reported to be in talks to acquire SMG's TV business

LONDON - Top management at the newly merged ITV Plc are strongly rumoured to be in break-up bid talks with Scottish Media Group, which owns two Scottish ITV licences valued at around £400m.

Virgin Radio-owning SMG controls the Grampian and Scottish ITV franchises plus a 25% stake in morning TV station GMTV.

News of the talks with ITV follows the breakdown in talks with Ulster TV, which controls the ITV licence in Northern Ireland. Those talks were ended because of the rise in SMG's share price to 120p.

SMG, which saw its annual pre-tax profit fall 25% to £17.5m last month, has been seen as a takeover target ever since it was forced to sell its Herald newspaper business to reduce its debts. SMG also sold off its interest in Scottish Radio to Emap for £90.5m in January.

According to reports, ITV's chief executive Charles Allen has long been interested in bidding for SMG's TV assets if the price was right.

The two companies have held talks before in August 2002 when Granada was reported to be in talks to buy the two ITV franchises.

Last year, SMG fought Carlton and Granada in the High Court last year over their plans to use the name ITV when they merged. SMG claimed that they were hijacking the ITV name and that it had a right to it through its ownership of the Scottish and Grampian franchises.

SMG later reached a settlement with ITV. ITV's inaugural AGM is due to take place later this month on April 19.

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