Banks woo ITV to defend it from a possible takeover

Hectic week in the media sector as troubled broadcaster insists it will hold its share of advertising
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The Independent Online

ITV, the FTSE 250 broadcaster, is being courted by investment banks ahead of a possible bid.

UBS and Goldman Sachs are among those understood to have met with ITV in case the company becomes the target of a predator. A source close to the broadcaster said the banks hoped to team up with Lazard, ITV's usual bank, if a bid is made.

RTL, the group that owns Channel 5, and Big Brother founder Endemol have been suggested as possible buyers. However, RTL, Europe's biggest media group, is also considered a possible suitor for Channel 4.

ITV had a turnover of more than £2bn last year. Its pre-tax profit was £150m, down from £281m the previous year. It has struggled in recent years: in 2003, its flagship ITV1 channel had an audience share of nearly 24 per cent, but slipped to under 20 per cent by 2007.

Executive chairman Michael Grade has been continually upbeat about ITV's prospects, stating in November that he expected the company to hold its share of year-on-year advertising for the first time in 25 years.

In a hectic week in the media sector, BBC director general Mark Thomson signalled that he believed a merger of Channel 4 and 5 would improve public sector broadcasting as it would create cost savings. Communications regulator Ofcom will publish a public sector broadcasting review on Wednesday.

Ofcom announced on Friday that it had fined ITV £220,000 for not producing enough programmes outside London in 2006 and 2007. Ofcom stipulates that 50 per cent of production spending should take place outside the capital. However, only 45.6 per cent and 44.3 per cent were spent outside London in 2006 and 2007 respectively.

Mecom, the regional newspapers group created by former Trinity Mirror boss David Montgomery, found itself in crisis after five non-executive directors and the finance chief, John Allwood, walked out over disagreements on strategy.

Mr Montgomery is determined to stay on as chief executive and has the support of leading shareholders in the business. Alasdair Locke has become chairman. Mr Montgomery was preciously both chairman and chief executive.

Tel Aviv-based drama producer Dori Media Group said last week that it expected turnover of around $50m (£34m) for 2008, after a slow final quarter.

Communications minister Lord Stephen Carter is due to publish a report entitled Digital Britain at the end of the month. This will examine growth strategies for the communications and broadcasting sectors. The report, coupled with the Ofcom review, is expected to lead to a Communications Act.