Media peer set to join lottery race: Competition heats up as live draw could attract 23 million viewers

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MEDIA peer Lord Hollick, the Ladbroke-owned football pools group Vernons, and the US computer giant NCR are believed to be planning to join the race to run the National Lottery.

They are expected to declare their hand on Monday, joining about eight other consortia keen to win the licence and revenues estimated at more than pounds 2bn a year.

Lord Hollick's interest in bidding stems from his desire to see the lottery televised on Meridian, the broadcaster, in which his MAI group holds a 61 per cent stake.

There is fierce competition for the right to televise the lottery. Estimates are that a live draw could attract an audience of 23 million or more - and corresponding advertising rates. Even top-rated shows like Coronation Street and EastEnders attract only around 18 million viewers.

Ladbroke originally discussed a joint bid with LWT, the company that owns the London weekend television franchise. The talks fell through after rival Granada took a stake in LWT - it is now in the throes of a hostile bid for the group.

Both Granada and another television group, Carlton Communications, are already members of the Great British Lottery Company, another consortium bidding for the licence alongside Associated Newspapers and Hambros.

Applications have to be in by 14 February and a winner should be announced in the spring.

Meanwhile, competition is building among companies hoping to supply services to the eventual winner.

Yesterday Interactive Media Services, which currently offers sports information lines and direct order telephone services, said it had approached contenders for the lottery with an offer to provide a range of services, including a national lottery game over the telephone.

A former division of William Hill, IMS was bought out 15 months ago by its management, Bill Wilson and Paul Rouse. They have 20 per cent of the company, which expects turnover to double to pounds 16m this year.

IMS says that telephone games are significant revenue earners in many national lotteries. It also argues that the licensee will have to make use of telephone technology to meet the criteria set by the Office of the National Lottery.

Oflot has said that at least once a month one of the national lottery games must be accessible through a non-retail medium - in effect either by post or over the telephone.

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