Granada wins bitter battle to own LWT: Chairman regrets loss of independence

GRANADA yesterday clinched victory in its pounds 765m battle for the London broadcaster LWT, creating a merged group that will be responsible for some of the UK's best known programmes, from Coronation Street to Blind Date.

The takeover was bitterly opposed by LWT's management, yet it will make multi-millionaires out of its top executives, who will realise more than pounds 76m as a result.

Sir Christopher Bland, LWT's chairman, and Greg Dyke, its chief executive, have LWT stakes worth about pounds 14m and pounds 9m respectively.

They are among 54 members of LWT's staff who ended up with around 10 per cent of the company as a result of the most generous share options scheme in UK corporate history, which was introduced in 1989 when the company faced the renewal of its franchise.

It is unclear how many LWT executives will choose or be invited to stay on. Gerry Robinson, Granada's chief executive, refused to be drawn beyond observing that Sir Christopher had acknowledged from the start that there would be no room for him if the bid was successful. However, it seems clear the group wants Mr Dyke, who is highly respected in the industry, to remain.

Other jobs also seem certain to be lost. Granada has consistently maintained that it could make savings as a result of rationalising the two companies.

Sir Christopher, who fought fiercely to keep LWT independent, congratulated Granada. LWT was obviously disappointed not to have retained its independence, but he was confident that the company's experienced staff would make a real contribution within the enlarged Granada Group, he said.

The merger is the third among ITV companies since the rules on ownership were relaxed by the Government at the end of last year.

MAI, Lord Hollick's media group, which controls Meridian, the southern broadcaster, has successfully bid for Anglia, the eastern broadcaster, while Michael Green's Carlton Communications, which owns the London weekday franchise, has acquired Midlands-based Central Television. Both were agreed offers, however.

The television regulator, the Independent Television Commission, has made it clear that where franchises merge, the combined group must continue to meet the separate obligations of each licence.

Marjorie Mowlam, Labour national heritage spokeswoman, warned yesterday that the party would keep a close eye on the industry. 'We will want to see quality of productions and the distinct regional character of independent TV survive in spite of the Government's persistent failure to take a long-term view of ITV takeovers.'

Granada launched its initial bid, then worth pounds 600m, at the end of last year. It raised its offer earlier this month to about 784p a share.

As a result of the bid, the proportion of Granada's revenues and profits generated from television will double to around a third. Granada will become responsible for almost 40 per cent of the ITV network's programme-making and about 10 per cent of UK production.

Granada and LWT will jointly take about 22 per cent of the independent network's expected pounds 1.4bn 1994 net advertising revenue. A shake-up of advertising airtime sales arrangements within ITV is now expected, following assurances given by Granada, MAI and Carlton during their bids.

Granada declared the bid unconditional after securing acceptances for just over 40 per cent of the shares, which together with the 17.5 per cent it already owns gave it control.

(Photograph omitted)