Front seat for Green

Carlton goes after another scoop with MGM bid
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The Independent Online
MICHAEL GREEN'S Carlton Communications group has emerged as the surprise front-runner to buy the MGM cinema chain, with a late bid believed to exceed Rank Organisation's pounds 200m offer.

Carlton, which owns the London weekday television franchise and Central Television, dropped out as a serious bidder weeks ago, but returned to the fray when Rank's offer became mired in monopolies difficulties.

SG Warburg, the merchant bank handling the sale for MGM's owner, Credit Lyonnais, was due to announce the winning bidder last week. But Carlton's late re-entry has delayed any decision.

Carlton has no cinema interests, so any deal would not be hit by competition rules. However, it is a big supplier to Hollywood studios through its Technicolor production company. Moreover, there might be concerns about quality standards. Carlton has twice been criticised by the Independent Television Commission over the poor quality of some of its TV programmes.

Nigel Griffiths, Labour's corporate affairs spokesman, gave the Carlton offer a cautious welcome this weekend. He said: "It's much healthier that a new player should come into the market than that MGM is taken over by an existing player."

However, he added: "There must be safeguards to ensure the public are not sold short on quality. I think the National Heritage Select Committee should quiz any potential bidder and grill them."

Rank, which has 20 per cent of the British cinema market, could still come back with a higher offer for MGM, with 26 per cent. But the Office of Fair Trading would press for the divestment of some cinemas in the event of Rank winning the auction.

The other bidders for MGM have included Time Warner and a joint venture between Virgin and the US Craig Group.