We need to protect broadcaster's production wing from US big guns

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The Independent Online

ITV is looking every bit as physically fit as the contestants in its recent extreme assault course show Ninja Warrior. It might have lost some viewers, and that is an issue, but it is still unique in Britain in being able to deliver a mass audience to advertisers.

To put it in context, the core ITV 1 is the only commercial channel able to deliver audiences of six million-plus. It has 98.5 per cent of the shows rated at over five million.

A broad-brush approach, as opposed to seeking out the smaller but more targeted audiences available through speciality channels, is very attractive to some of the big advertisers. And the company’s latest numbers show they’re prepared to pay plenty for the exposure.

ITV’s increasingly reliable production line should help to keep it that way. Gone are the days when the company was reliant on an ageing X-Factor, Downton Abbey and its two staple soaps.

That is important, given the loss of the Champions League to BT. While ITV will screen the Rugby World Cup, it has accepted that most top-tier sporting events are now out of its reach.

Hence the need to invest in that production business, which also produces for others. It bears remembering that the company was under pressure to sell it a few years ago when it was on its knees and facing serious questions over its independent future.

No wonder chief executive Adam Crozier is so twitchy about the BBC’s attempt to muscle in with plans to compete for independent commissions. And he has a point. Not so much from ITV’s perspective: it can still compete. But smaller independents will find it harder. Auntie shouldn’t be in the business of strangling them.

But that is only one of the battles ITV potentially faces, and perhaps not the most important. It is the success of the company that now calls its continuing independence into question.

Mr Crozier says he believes it can continue the charge, but there is a reason those bid rumours, involving deep-pocketed Americans, so regularly create flutters in the share price. He may struggle to resist if an approach is pitched right.

Which would be a shame. ITV is proving its worth, not just domestically but internationally too.

There are compelling reasons for the Government to find reasons to prevent it from being swallowed, if a genuine drama over the company’s independent future is scripted.

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