LWT sets sights on Yorkshire deal

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The Independent Online
LWT HAS approached Scottish Television to see if it would step in as a 'foster mother' to allow LWT to buy Yorkshire-Tyne Tees TV, opening the way for the London weekend station to salvage its independence in the face of a possible bid from either Granada Group or Lord Hollick's MAI.

Sir Christopher Bland, the chairman of LWT, is understood to have had talks with Gus Macdonald, the highly regarded chief executive of Scottish, in an attempt to find a way for LWT to buy YTTV, in which it has a 14 per cent stake.

The takeover rules, as proposed by Peter Brooke, the National Heritage Secretary, and to be debated in the Commons on Wednesday, only allow a company to own two ITV licences. As YTTV owns both the Yorkshire and the Tyne- Tees licences, after the merger between the two groups last year, it is effectively bid-proof.

LWT's management team, led by Sir Christopher and the managing director, Greg Dyke, have been investigating ways to get around this rule. It is understood that Ward Thomas, YTTV's 69-year-old chairman, is keen to court LWT.

A suggestion that the management of Tyne-Tees might mount a buyout of the station was described as 'potty' by a senior source, who said it would be financially unfeasible to split the two companies.

An alternative plan is now being explored with Scottish. This would involve the transfer of Tyne-Tees' licence and programme commitments to the Glasgow-based ITV group, while LWT would retain the physical assets of Tyne-Tees, such as its Newcastle studios and the Cleveland newsroom it shares with Yorkshire.

LWT, which is already responsible for selling YTTV's advertising airtime, would continue in this and pay Scottish a royalty of the advertising income minus the government levy and the cost of making Tyne-Tees' programmes.

Speculation was mounting over the weekend that Granada may launch a pounds 600m hostile offer for LWT this week.

Granada, which is expected to unveil full-year pre-tax profits of pounds 173m on Wednesday, has a 20 per cent holding in LWT which it bought in a dawn raid during the summer. The London station has made it clear that it would not welcome a bid from Granada.

The leisure company is not the only rumoured bidder. Lord Hollick's MAI is understood to be running the rule over LWT, as is the French Compagnie Generale des Eaux.

(Photograph omitted)

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