Improved Carlton attacks rules on mergers

CARLTON Communications, the media group with interests in four ITV stations, yesterday attacked the rules preventing television mergers, as it announced pre-tax profits up 15 per cent to pounds 102.3m, writes Patrick Hosking.

Michael Green, chairman, said the Government should relax the rules to allow the mergers of ITV companies, which were already facing pressures from satellite and cable. 'Such a relaxation would be an important contribution to sustaining the strength of the ITV network and the integrity of British broadcasting and production.'

Carlton owns Carlton TV, which takes over the Thames franchise on 1 January. It also has 20 per cent stakes in GMTV, the new breakfast broadcaster, and Central Independent TV. Through Central it has an interest in Meridian, the licensee taking over the southern region.

Carlton TV has received 'strong commitments' to buy airtime from advertising agencies, media buyers and advertisers, a spokesman said, but declined to amplify. All 350 staff were in place to begin broadcasting in the new year.

The group lifted earnings per share by 16 per cent in the year to 30 September, in line with expectations. A final dividend of 10.3p makes a total of 17p, up 10 per cent. Net cash fell from pounds 162.6m to pounds 108.5m as the group invested in the start-up of Carlton TV and made other acquisitions. Sales grew by pounds 101m to pounds 702m.

The group was boosted by strong profits growth from the division duplicating and distributing video cassettes for the Hollywood studios. The division making equipment for TV and movie producers also had a strong year. However, profits from television and film services fell 12 per cent, depressed by the slump in post-production activity and further weakened by exchange rate movements.

Mr Green said Carlton remained cautious, but looked forward 'to an eventful 1993 with some optimism'.

(Photograph omitted)