Pearson goes for Muppets

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PEARSON, the media and entertainment group, is rumoured to be negotiating to buy an American production company to give its Thames Television subsidiary a foothold in the US.

According to Variety magazine, Pearson may buy ITC, whose library of television programmes includes The Prisoner and The Saint, for about dollars 175m ( pounds 120m).

Pearson refused to comment, though analysts said the move was expected. 'Pearson always wanted to use Thames for the creation of an international television business,' said one. 'The more Pearson's media operations are expanded the more speculation grows that Pearson will sell its non-media interests.'

ITC is owned by Morgan Private Equity, which is in turn a subsidiary of Hongkong and Shanghai Bank. ITC has a 10,000-hour library of television shows and features and has produced films including On Golden Pond and The Muppet Movie.

Pearson bought Thames, then the UK's largest independent television programme maker, a year ago this week for pounds 99m. At the time Lord Blakenham, chairman of Pearson, said it was the company's strategy to increase its involvement in the visual media.

Although Pearson was not involved in TV production, Lord Blakenham said it was a natural extension to the company. Pearson is thought to be keen to join the multimedia industry, providing services such as video on demand.

Thames lost its franchise to Carlton in January 1993, though sales of programmes like The Bill continue to bring in money.

Shares were down 7p at 648p.