Andrew Murray-Watson: At last, there's something worth watching on ITV

But it won't help the broadcaster to add NTL's problems to its own
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The Independent Online

The proposed takeover of ITV by NTL is set to make more interesting viewing than most of the broadcasters' programmes.

For once, the City simply didn't see the deal coming and NTL, with Sir Richard Branson looking on from the wings as an 11 per cent shareholder, is again enjoying the limelight.

But the audience could be about to turn nasty.

Supporters of the deal have been shouting about the fact that a combined NTL-ITV would have the scale to truly compete in the new digital entertainment era. The argument goes that the deal would create a compelling content division through the integration of NTL's Flextech with ITV's Granada. The group could then distribute this content on terrestrial and digital TV, over the internet and on mobile. But as usual, NTL is late in delivering its lines.

Owning content should be becoming increasingly less important for broadcasters. Rather, it is how that content is monetised that is crucial.

In the digital TV world, with its almost countless channels, nobody can afford to keep content to themselves. Consumers choose to subscribe to Sky or NTL purely on price, customer service and the range of products such as pay-TV, broadband internet and fixed-line telephony. The content offered by both companies is broadly the same. In fact, consumers are usually blissfully unaware of which companies actually make the programmes they watch.

Hence Granada is only worth something to NTL if it can supply content that viewers want to watch, and which is cheaper to make than to buy in from an external producer. Judging from ITV's audience figures, Granada may be unable to fulfil that role.

And the argument that merging NTL with ITV will somehow create a British TV champion is bogus. Anyone who advocates "the bigger the better" approach for media companies should cast their minds back to the GWR-Capital merger. That has been a disaster and Capital Radio has still to recover.

From ITV's perspective, a deal would be unlikely to arrest the drastic decline in ITV1's viewing figures. The last thing ITV needs is to sing a duet with a network operator also under serious competitive pressure and saddled with debt.

Both ITV and NTL are struggling but, in short, a merger will not address the core problems each faces. As far as this deal is concerned, it is only a matter of time before somebody lobs a rotten tomato on to the stage.

The name's Bond

The new James Bond movie is out this week. Daniel Craig, the actor playing 007, will be blowing things up and wooing the ladies in Casino Royale, the latest in the never-ending saga.

But another Bond will also be making his mark next week. Sir John Bond, the chairman of Vodafone, will oversee the announcement of a solid set of numbers when the giant mobile group reports its interim results on Tuesday.

It is possible that Sir John may not be as successful as his secret-agent namesake when it comes to impressing the fairer sex, but he certainly knows how to get the analysts swooning.

Vodafone's share price has been marching northwards since Sir John took the helm back in the summer. This week's results are likely to further appease a City that had lost patience with the company and its seemingly endless internal squabbling.

Sir John is not directly in charge of the company's operating performance. But his calming presence has certainly allowed Arun Sarin, Vodafone's under-fire chief executive, to get on with his job in peace.

Vodka Martinis all round, Mr Bond?

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