Dyke sparks tensions at Pearson TV

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The Independent Online
Television industry experts were last night predicting a split at the board of Pearson Television following the appointment of Greg Dyke, former LWT managing director and multi-millionaire, as chairman and chief executive.

His appointment, marking a dramatic come-back to television since the takeover of his old company by Granada, is seen as leapfrogging his former rival, Richard Dunn.

Sources close to Pearson say that the decision to appoint Mr Dyke over the head of Mr Dunn arose from a "less-than-perfect" relationship between Frank Barlow, chief executive of Pearson, and Mr Dunn.

"Maybe, Greg is more to Barlow's taste. Dunn and Barlow lack a relationship, there has been a great deal of frustration at Thames about the way Pearson Television runs things. There is a communications problem," one well-placed source said.

Mr Dyke's appointment is understood to have come as a surprise to the rest of the board, although Mr Dunn knew it was being made.

Industry executives said last night that a question mark hung over Mr Dunn's future and tensions would heighten when Mr Dyke, currently working on several films, starts full-time in the next two months.

Mr Dunn has been involved in negotiating Pearson's relationship with the BBC, setting up international satellite services. Mr Barlow had chaired Pearson Television, before Mr Dyke's appointment. Mr Dyke took his first board meeting yesterday. Both Mr Dunn and Mr Dyke are former , until chairmen of the ITV Association, and were professional rivals, running the competing London ITV franchises until Thames Television lost its franchise at the end of 1992, and LWT was taken over after a hostile bid by Grana da last February. They also have have very different personalities - "chalk and cheese", an industry executive who knows both well said.

Mr Dunn is an urbane, diplomatic man, who has worked stubbornly to salvage a future for the programme-making and Teddington Studio rump left after it was stripped of its franchise as a consenquence of Carlton's higher bid.

It makes programmes for ITV, the BBC, Channel 4 and BSkyB.

Mr Dyke, 47, who left LWT with a £7m share bonanza, said yesterday that despite several offers he had decided to remain in the media, but had decided not to attempt to head a bid for Channel 5, the new terrestrial channel being advertised by the Independent Television Commission in May.

He said he had known Frank Barlow from1966, when he was managing director of Middlesex County Press "and I was one of his young, under-paid journalists. I got to know him again two or three years ago." Mr Dyke described Mr Dunn and himself as friends andsaid that he intended to be a full-time chairman, and to examine "the phenomenal intellectual rights" it possessed throughout the company. Pearson, MAI and Time Warner are preparing to bid for Channel 5.

Pearson has recently been briefing MPs on its multi-media strategy. However, there are concerns among City institutions that Pearson has been over-paying for some of its multi-media opportunities.

Last year the group announced plans to divest itself of some disparate subsidiaries such as Royal Doulton and an oil services group, and focus attention on becoming a media conglomerate. The group had already paid £99m for a controlling stake in Thames Television last April and has a 17.5 per cent stake in BSkyB.

Its most embarrassing moment in the brave new world of satellite broadcasting came in July when Pearson believed it had secured a vital piece in its new broadcasting jigsaw, only to find its potential bride had jilted it at the altar and eloped with another suitor.

Pearson believed it had succeeded with its offer to pay $625m for a 70 per cent stake in StarTV, the Hong-Kong based pan-Asian satellite group. But Rupert Murdoch managed to snatch the deal from under Pearson's nose when he paid $525m for 63.6 per cent of Star.

Since then, Pearson has paid £52.5m for Future Publishing, a computer magazine publisher.

It later emerged this was £25m more than any other bidder offered.