Granada hints at spin-off of its media interests

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GRANADA, the ITV broadcaster, hotel and restaurant operator, yesterday indicated that it is moving towards a spin-off of its media interests, even though Gerry Robinson, the chairman, said there was no timetable for the move. "I would be surprised if you looked 10 years down the road and we weren't part of a large international media grouping," Mr Robinson said. "The tendency to internationalisation is definitely there."

BSkyB, of which Mr Robinson was chairman until last year, has long sought to expand in Europe. More recently, its News Corp parent has made opening moves to expand into Italy and Germany. Mr Robinson has foreshadowed the group's demerger before, but seems more anxious to execute one last bumper deal, perhaps rivalling Granada's hostile pounds 4bn takeover of Forte in 1996.

"Clearly, if there were an opportunity to link up with an international media group - or if there was a chance to buy a large leisure operator - we would look at it," he said.

The comments came as Granada fulfiled its aim of growing earnings by a double- digit percentage. Pre-tax profit on ordinary activities in the six months to March rose 13 per cent to pounds 315m. Sales grew 5.8 per cent to pounds 1.98bn.

Mr Robinson said soft business conditions early in 1999 have given way to a "strong and improving trading environment". He added: "I believe that is proof of a soft-landing."

ONdigital, the television company that Granada and Carlton jointly own and which had 110,000 subscribers in the four months to March, says it gave away 8,000 digital set-top boxes on 28 May, the first day the decoders were offered for free. Since then, demand has sometimes surpassed that figure, company executives said.