Media: A Blind Date with destiny: Michael Leapman and Maggie Brown examine the implications if Granada takes control of LWT

Click to follow
The Independent Online
So is it farewell, then, London Weekend Television? Looks like it. Almost the only person who does not think Granada's pounds 770m bid will succeed, when its offer closes on Friday, is Greg Dyke, LWT's ebullient chief executive. He has spent the past couple of weeks telling institutional shareholders that Granada's valuation of the company is too low and they should not sell. But ebullience may not be enough: most analysts think it is a good price and believe LWT will be in the hands of the Manchester-based predator by the weekend.

What does it mean for viewers? Will we lose Blind Date, Beadle's About, London's Burning, The South Bank Show and other favourites?

Certainly not. Those top-rated shows are among the assets (plus the entree to London advertising) that could make LWT worth the price Granada is offering. Under the rules of the Independent Television Commission the companies have to maintain their separate identities and stick to the promises they made when they applied for their franchises, despite the change in ownership. That means Granada will have to keep LWT's London studios open and maintain the commitment to local programming.

So London viewers will still be stuck with the London News Network?

Afraid so.

If nothing is going to change, what is the point of the merger?

Conventional wisdom is that the original 15 ITV companies, largely unaltered from when the system began in the Fifties, are too small and vulnerable to survive individually in the new competitive world of international multi-media groups. They need the extra muscle that size gives. That is why the Government has relaxed the rules that barred two large companies from coming together, cutting 15 to a potential eight.

What other mergers have there been?

Carlton (London weekday) with Central (Midlands). Meridian (southern England) with Anglia (East Anglia). The difference is that in both cases the bids were uncontested, having been recommended by the management of the target companies.

Why does Dyke think the Granada offer is too low?

He says that with newspaper publishers expected to be allowed to buy into television before long - submissions to the Government's media cross-ownership review must be in by Friday - the value of ITV companies will increase.

What does Granada think of this?

Granada's line is that LWT's resistance is all to do with the amour propre of Dyke and the chairman, Sir Christopher Bland, and their desire to continue running their own show. Certainly Dyke and Bland have no obvious financial interest in resisting: LWT executives hold 10 per cent of the company's shares and will receive millions of pounds if the Granada bid goes through - on top of the millions they gained last year as a result of a management share incentive scheme designed to stop them being headhunted by rivals.

Will there still be a role for Dyke under Granada?

There certainly would be if he wanted it, although he would probably not relish working under Gerry Robinson, the group chief executive - scornfully known as 'the caterer' by television folk because of his background in Granada's food operations. Dyke, on the other hand, has been in television most of his career, producing LWT's Six O'Clock Show and being programme director of TV-am, before going into higher management.

What will Dyke do if he loses?

He won't be short of offers. Many chief executives of ITV companies are nervous at the prospect of his coming on to the job market. One possibility is that he could take a senior role at the ITV Network Centre, coming under attack for its failure to generate original new programming, especially sitcoms.

How did LWT find itself in this position? Did Bland and Dyke do anything wrong?

Yes. They fell victim to the Masters of the Universe syndrome, a belief in their own powers enhanced by their imperious tower-block headquarters on the South Bank. The company failed to prepare for the new era when it was bound to be a bid target, unless it got its own takeover in first. The knee-jerk acquisition of a stake in Yorkshire Tyne-Tees (YTTV), a dual franchise, was foolish in retrospect. It blocked a simple takeover when the Government relaxed ownership rules last November to allow one company to hold two franchises (LWT plus YTTV makes three). Nor had LWT millionaires worked out a credible plan to team up with a foreign media company. A complicated alliance with Anglia fell apart when it was wooed by rivals Meridian.

But LWT still makes good programmes, doesn't it?

Yes, but some of them - Blind Date, Beadle's About - are past their peak. Apart from the South Bank Show, LWT seems to have abandoned its earlier attempts at up-market programming for the network, but in the present ITV climate, where ratings are all, Dyke cannot be criticised for that.

What difference will all these mergers make in the long run?

ITV's future is not, on the face of it, rosy. The growth of satellite television puts a double squeeze on the commercial companies: their audiences fall and, more seriously, they lose their monopoly in television advertising. The larger the company, the more effectively it can withstand troubled times. If Dyke and his LWT colleagues lose, and retreat with their bundles of money, they may be the last ITV millionaires.

(Photograph omitted)