ITV boss Allen calls for ceasefire in ratings battle with the BBC

Consolidation continues as ITV snaps up Scottish stake in GMTV for £31m
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The Independent Online

Charles Allen, the chief executive of ITV, has called for a new era of "collaboration" with the BBC, its traditional rival, and has declared his support for the licence fee to continue as the basis for the BBC's funding.

In an interview with The Independent, Mr Allen said ITV and the BBC should work together more in the future to the benefit of viewers rather than vying for dominance of ratings.

His comments come as ITV yesterday continued its consolidation of channel three by snapping up a further stake in GMTV, the breakfast television company.

"Our focus is much more about competing with commercial competitors rather than competing with the BBC," Mr Allen told The Independent.

"My vision would also see us collaborating more with the BBC rather than head-to-head competition because I don't think the viewer benefits from head-to-head competition," he said. "I don't believe in ghetto-ising the BBC. I think it's about us as an industry selling our wares internationally. I think we can be world leading."

Mr Allen said there were a "great many things" the two broadcasters could do together. It already has shared studio operations in Manchester, for instance. "We are in the same sector, the same industry and it is about how you work together. We will be very supportive, for example, of the BBC continuing to have the license fee as the basis of funding," he said.

Mr Allen also raised questions about the recent management of the BBC and the role the corporation has been playing in recent years.

"It's in everybody's interests to have a strong BBC. Ironically, what has happened in the last few years under more commercial leadership is people are asking the question what role should the BBC play in the future? We should never have that question. We are very supportive of a strong BBC."

The "more commercial leadership" mentioned by Mr Allen is a reference to Greg Dyke, the former BBC director general, who has been linked to taking Mr Allen's job at ITV.

Mr Allen has been faced with constant rumours about his future following last year's dramatic ousting of Michael Green, the former head of Carlton, as ITV's first chairman.

Mr Allen said there was "no substance" to the rumours linking Mr Dyke to the ITV job, saying that although Mr Dyke was a "very good creative director" there was "not a creative deficit at ITV".

The company has also been the subject of takeover speculation, with a number of private equity bidders being mentioned.

Mr Allen's move yesterday to raise ITV's stake in GMTV to 75 per cent heralds the start of a corporate tidying-up process following the merger earlier this year of Carlton Communications and Granada.

ITV is buying SMG's 25 per cent stake in GMTV for £31m. The move consolidates its ownership of the early morning channel. ITV will be making a similar offer to the Walt Disney Company, which has the last 25 per cent of GMTV that is still outstanding.

However, a string of smaller corporate actions is expected from ITV to rationalise its assets. A further move will involve a boardroom review of the non-television assets that ITV has inherited from the Carlton-Granada merger. It is understood that the future of businesses including the Carlton cinema advertising operations and Granada Learning, the education business, will be reviewed by the ITV board. Other assets in the review will include stakes in both Arsenal and Liverpool football clubs that were bought by Granada. ITV is believed to be keen to sell the stakes.

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