Predators and prey in the hunt

Carlton: The ultimate aggressor. Rich and ambitious. Widely expected to buy Central TV, in which it has a 20 per cent stake. The cost - around pounds 800m - could be funded from borrowings.

Central: A jewel, most likely to adorn Carlton's crown. Bid just pounds 2,000 a year to retain its franchise. Is therefore extremely profitable and could be even more so, as it may not have pared costs to the bone.

Granada: As aggressive as Carlton. Has turned its attentions to LWT as its ambition to take over Yorkshire-Tyne Tees has been thwarted. Bought a 20 per cent stake at 500p a share. Would be unlikely to pay less than 600p a share for LWT and may find this too much.

LWT: Bought 14 per cent of Yorkshire-Tyne Tees. Has Granada as a 20 per cent shareholder and Mercury Asset Management with 15 per cent, which spells the end of independence. But any buyer should want to keep LWT's exceptional management.

Yorkshire-Tyne Tees: Up the proverbial creek. After combining two companies that overpaid for their franchises, it sold pounds 15m more advertising time than it had. Its fall-back - whereby LWT would buy Pearson's 14 per cent stake and launch a bid - is impossible under the new rules. A bleak future since it has ruled out splitting itself up to allow bidders in.

Meridian: Lord Hollick's MAI has 51 per cent. It must either acquire another franchise or sell out to allow a move into other media. Possible bidder for HTV, or even Central. No love lost between Lord Hollick and Michael Green of Carlton.

HTV: A mini version of YTTV. Short of money, ideas and hope. Peter Brooke said he would save the Welsh licence from bidders, but didn't. However, HTV looks dear after the fivefold rise in its share price this year.

Anglia: A juicy plum. Not only is it a nice licence in an affluent area, but it owns a small stake in the increasingly valuable BSkyB and a larger stake in Village Roadshow, the extremely profitable Australian group. Central would love it. MAI might also. Could be the first victim of a foreign bid.

Scottish: Gus MacDonald says he is a potential aggressor, but that may only mean he buys Grampian or Border. Despite its pounds 2,000-a-year bid to retain its franchise, Scottish is marginal because Channel 4 has hit it particularly hard. Could be consolation for a thwarted predator.

Westcountry: A private company with a small franchise. Nobody really wants it. Has Associated Newspapers as a 20 per cent shareholder, but it has bigger fish to fry.

Grampian: The only company that might buy Grampian is Scottish. A marginal company being pushed further to the fringes.

Ulster: Not even Scottish would bid. What is the future for this sort of group?

Border: The mystery is why the ITC bothered to save this licence. Granada, Scottish or YTTV might have swallowed it, but will not want to tie their hands now they are limited to one purchase.

Channel TV: Only of use to someone as a poison pill, blocking another bid while the limit is two franchises per company.

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