Avesco demerges after 'Millionaire' letdowns

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Avesco, the little company that owns a stake in Celador, the maker of Who Wants to be a Millionaire, is to split itself in two.

It is separating its core business, which lends television screens and displays to corporate presentations, from its media investments. Both halves will be listed on the junior AIM.

The media rights business - which owns 49 per cent of Celador's parent company, Complete Communications - will be renamed InvestinMedia. Richard Murray, Avesco's deputy chairman and also chairman of Charlton Athletic football club, is to remain a non-executive of both companies.

The demerger, proposed in documents sent to shareholders yesterday, is the culmination of two years of disappointment over declining revenues from Millionaire. Avesco was hit last year by profit warnings blamed on poor sales of Millionaire merchandise and the cancellation of the weekly US version of the show. At the peak of the show's success in the UK four years ago, 19 million viewers watched Chris Tarrant offering television's biggest cash prize.

However, this year's Christmas Day edition drew an audience of just 6.3 million. Avesco was worth £210m at its peak in 2000, but yesterday's penny rise took its share price to 147.5p and its market capitalisation to barely £24m. Analysts believe the businesses which will become InvestinMedia account for about a quarter of the group's worth.

"The growth potential of both businesses will be more transparent to investors as separate AIM companies," Mr Murray said. "Should equity fundraising be appropriate to finance the growth strategies of either company, the directors believe that this may be more easily achieved if each company is clearly focused on one activity with an appropriate valuation."

Avesco said earlier this month that Complete had increased interim profits to £1.3m, but that the core corporate presentation business was still losing money.

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