Granada earmarks media partners for expansion

Granada Media Group, part of Gerry Robinson's hotels and leisure conglomerate, has earmarked as many as six US joint-venture partners to co-develop television programmes for sale around the world, as a step towards expanding its international media business.

The company is also in talks with at least two UK cable operators - Nynex CableComms and Telewest Communications - about developing "City TV" cable channels in Manchester and Liverpool.

The news emerged yesterday as the group, headed by Duncan Lewis, the former boss of telephone group Mercury, unveiled an across-the board management restructuring aimed at streamlining operations in the UK and increasing opportunities abroad and at home.

"We looked at what other global companies are doing in the sector, and considered where we wanted to be in three years," Mr Lewis said. "The new structure should strengthen our capabilities."

At the core of the restructuring is a split between broadcasting and production, aimed at giving the production side greater freedom to supply programmes to other broadcasters. A new division, dubbed Granada Vision, will explore markets outside the company's core ITV businesses - London Weekend Television and Granada, the ITV franchise for the North-west.

The newly formed Granada UK Broadcasting will be headed by David Liddeiment, while Granada International Productions, which will focus on production particularly for ITV, will be jointly run by Jules Burns and Andrea Wonfors. All three executives were previously in senior positions at Granada.

An outside appointment is to be made within a few weeks to head Granada Vision, which will also be responsible for the group's joint venture with BSkyB to launch satellite services later this year.

The restructuring is the latest in a series of moves by ITV companies to prepare for the onset of multi-channel television, and follows similar changes at Michael Green's Carlton and Lord Hollick's United News & Media, which owns the Anglia and Meridian regional ITV franchises.

In his first interview since arriving at Granada Media Group earlier this year, Mr Lewis stressed the changes would not lead to job losses, and said the regional nature of the company's two franchises would not be jeopardised. "We are keeping separate production operations for both Granada and LWT."

The changes suggest that Granada will attempt to exploit overseas markets for its range of drama, comedy and entertainment programming. But there will be a special emphasis on local programming which could include community television channels for Manchester and Liverpool, in league with local cable operators.

Mr Lewis added that Granada was still not convinced about the prospects for digital terrestrial television in the UK. "We aren't yet sure the numbers really work," he said. Granada will support the rest of the ITV sector in taking up the Government's offer of space on the digital spectrum for the "simulcasting" of existing ITV programming.

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