Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

ITV's Big New Picture; GRANADA-CARLTON MERGER FINALLY TAKES TO THE AIR NEXT WEEK AND THE TIMING COULD NOT BE BETTER

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

ITV's Big New Picture; GRANADA-CARLTON MERGER FINALLY TAKES TO THE AIR NEXT WEEK AND THE TIMING COULD NOT BE BETTER

Article excerpt

Byline: NICK GOODWAY

DO NOT adjust your set but do adjust your Sets - Stock Exchange Electronic Trading System. On Monday morning, shares in Granada and Carlton Communications will disappear and, finally after nearly two years of wheeling and dealing, they will be replaced by the [pounds sterling]5.5 billion merged ITV Plc.

Viewers will immediately see a change but they, like shareholders, have already been beneficiaries of the deal over the past few months.

From Monday night, the news on ITV will come from a new [pounds sterling]1 million studio at a new fixed time of 10.30pm. New logos will rebrand the stations and the switch between national and regional news should be seamless.

There have been casualties, notably in the shape of Carlton chief executive Michael Green who was forced to stand down as chairman-elect of ITV after an institutional shareholder revolt led by Fidelity's Anthony Bolton. That has left a gap at the top which is being filled for the time being by Sir Brian Pitman, who is also leading the interviews of the halfdozen candidates put forward for the job by headhunters Zygos.

Meanwhile, Charles Allen - chairman of Granada today but chief executive of ITV on Monday - is in buoyant mood. He has plenty of reason to be so cheerful.

His main competitor for ratings, the BBC, is in turmoil following publication of the heavily critical Hutton report and the resignations of chairman Gavyn Davies and director-general Greg Dyke.

On top of that, ITV has this week scored a triple whammy. Regulator Ofcom has put forward a simpler, less onerous plan for renegotiating franchises given that ITV Plc now owns 12 of the 16. ITV won exclusive coverage of the plum England opening game against France in the Euro 2004 tournament from Portugal. And the third series of I'm a Celebrity-Get Me Out of Here! pulled an audience of more than 10 million viewers on its opening night.

Allen says that Celeb is a great demonstration of the new ITV: "It happens to be a Granada programme but in the old days a blockbuster like this would have had the other company holding urgent meetings deciding what they could do to retaliate. Today we are not only singing from the same hymn sheet but we have moved away from the pettiness of stealing market share.

Everybody is focused.

"For the first time, we will go out there and sell the story of the whole medium. The message used be that we had to fight Sky and fight Channel 4 but now I want us to learn from the great success which radio enjoyed by selling itself as an industry to advertisers. That made a huge impact on the growth that the radio companies enjoyed and I believe it could have the same effect on television. …

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