UKTV seeks replacement for SelecTV

Today's decision on Channel 5, tipped to go to UKTV, the highest bidder, will ignite a desperate search by the channel's backers to find additional equity partners, sources said.

One of UKTV's current owners, SelecTV, is in talks with at least four bidders that might lead to the sale of the company, and none of them has indicated it would be willing to remain with the UKTV consortium following a deal, sources close to the sales talks said. SelectTV has a claim on 20 per cent of UKTV, worth about pounds 20m.

As a consequence of SelecTV's likely departure from UKTV, the consortium's main backer, the Canadian broadcaster CanWest, is expected to approach members in losing consortia to bolster the share register. "If they win, then within three hours they will be on the phone to the rest of us," an executive in a rival group said.

The Independent Television Commission is expected to review carefully any new investors in Channel 5, to determine whether they meet regulatory requirements. If UKTV gets the nod, any new partner would have to be Europe- based, and its inclusion could not materially affect the programming promised for Channel 5.

Today's award will be subject to a 12-week consultative period before the licence is awarded unconditionally, to allow final details to be ironed out.

UKTV, whose other owners include Scandinavian Broadcasting System and Australia's Channel 10, has been criticised by other bidders because of its high foreign ownership.

In its original submission, the consortium made provisions for the addition of different owners either before or after the award was made.

The front-runners to buy SelecTV, producer of hit programmes such as Love Hurts, Birds of a Feather and Lovejoy, include the media and information company Pearson, the financial services and media conglomerate MAI and Associated Newspapers. All are members of rival consortia.