ITV is poised to sell off the family silver in the shape of a sponsorship deal for Coronation Street with Cadbury.
It would mean Cadbury's name or products would be advertised before and after the soap. For example, a 15-second slot at the start could announce "Sponsored by Cadbury", and be repeated in 5-second bursts around the commercial breaks and a 10-second slot at the end.
The Coronation Street logo could be used on Cadbury products and the company could use the programme and its stars for promotions as part of an agreement likely to cost pounds 10m.
Yesterday Paul Chard, head of sponsorship at Laser, Granada's sales house, said: "It's no secret that Coronation Street is up and available for sponsorship." He refused to confirm that Granada was close to an agreement with Cadbury. "There is no deal," he said. "We have talked, but we have talked to a lot of people."
It is 18 months since Granada began searching for sponsorship for ITV's top soap opera. Last August it appeared close to a deal with Pedigree Petfoods, owned by Mars.
In December 1994 Granada was in discussions with Allied Domecq, makers of Tetley bitter, Pedro Domecq sherry, Tetley tea and Dunkin' Donuts.
What is surprising is that it has taken so long for Granada to conclude a deal, when there is so much interest in sponsoring ITV's jewel in the crown.
It is this that makes any deal delicate, not least as it may affect the estimated pounds 18m a year that Coronation Street generates from advertising revenue.
The possible field of sponsors is also restricted because it is unlikely any companies other than the top 15 advertising spenders could afford sponsorship of the programme, which was 35 years old last month.
ITV ploughs substantial resources into tracking the success of sponsorship deals - for example Tetley and The Darling Buds of May - and testing audience reaction. Although it has had no indication that they irritate viewers, they have never been agreed for a programme as long-running and as much loved as Coronation Street. An industry source said that substantial research would also be undertaken before signing to Cadbury: "With Coronation Street one takes exceptional care the need not to upset viewers. They treat it as if it's real life."
An example of the bad publicity sponsorship can generate occurred last week, when it emerged Heineken had criticised Hotel Babylon, the ITV music show it sponsors, for having too many "negroes" in the studio audience. The previous biggest TV sponsorship deal was the pounds 4m agreement between ITV and Diet Coke for a series of movie premieres.Reuse content