Central chief attacks 'crazy' rules: Consortium bid for ITN's news service finally goes unconditional

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The Independent Online
CENTRAL Independent Television, the ITV company that is paying just pounds 2,000 for its Midlands franchise, announced a bumper dividend as it reported a 68 per cent hike in pre-tax profits to pounds 41.1m for 1992.

Leslie Hill, Central's chairman and chief executive, said the 28p final dividend, making a total of 30 1/2 p, up 25 per cent, was a recognition of the exceptional step change in the group's profitability.

Central also announced that its consortium bid for the ITN news service had gone unconditional. Its partners include Carlton Communications, Granada, Reuters Holdings, Anglia, Scottish TV and London Weekend Television.

The consortium, chaired by Carlton's chairman, Michael Green, has agreed an option to buy its Grays Inn Road headquarters building from Stanhope, the troubled developer.

Turnover at Central rose by 9 per cent to pounds 333.2m. Advertising revenue rose 9 per cent to pounds 249.8m; and the growth has continued into the new financial year - at about 8-10 per cent so far, Mr Hill said. Central lifted its share of ITV advertising revenue from 14.4 per cent to 15.1 per cent.

Part of the profits boost was achieved by the pounds 8.5m reduction in the Exchequer levy to pounds 13.7m in the last year of the old franchising system. Healthy cash flow led to an pounds 18.3m swing to net cash of pounds 9.3m at the year-end.

Mr Hill attacked 'the triple whammy' facing independent television contractors because of the Broadcasting Act. The large ones were prevented from merging with each other.

And, while from next January European Community companies would be able to buy UK contractors, the reverse was not possible because of broadcasting rules on the Continent. 'Almost everyone now accepts that the ownership rules are crazy,' Mr Hill said.

Central planned to stick to its three core businesses of production, broadcasting and sales. 'No safari parks, paintings or video shops for Central,' Mr Hill maintained. He brushed aside a suggestion that Central might buy neighbouring HTV, but added: 'Clearly there are companies in the ITV system who have made high cash bids. In some cases it is difficult to understand how they can be viable.'

Future programmes include Peak Practice, a drama about a doctor starring Kevin Whately, who played Sergeant Lewis in Central's award- winning Inspector Morse. Central has also produced Sharpe, a Napoleonic drama featuring real soldiers from the Red Army as extras; and All in the Game, a series about a British footballer who moves to Spain, based on an idea by Gary Lineker. 'We can't do it on the set of Eldorado unfortunately,' said Andy Allan, Central Broadcasting's managing director.

Mr Hill confirmed that none of the executive directors was paid as a company rather than an employee.

(Photograph omitted)