Consortium beats Channel 5 deadline

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PROSPECTS for the fifth trial television channel looked bright last night when the only consortium bidding for it just narrowly beat the Independent Television Commission's deadline for giving details of its potential financing.

After a day of last-minute international negotiations Thames TV, which is leading the consortium, delivered what it called 'necessary information' to the ITC's headquarters in Knightsbridge, central London.

The commission will meet on 17 December to decide whether to accept the consortium's financing package and programme plans. If it gives the go-ahead, Channel 5 could start broadcasting to the London area as early as next summer.

Thames gives up the London weekday Channel 3 franchise at the end of this month, having been outbid by Carlton in last year's auction.

It will continue as an independent programme producer and as such can hold only 20 per cent of Channel 5's proposed pounds 150m equity under the ITC rules.

The same rules say that at least 51 per cent of the channel must be financed from within the European Community.

Among those believed to have agreed to invest are Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian television magnate, and the United States media conglomerate Time- Warner. Pearsons, which publishes the Financial Times, had shown interest but is believed to be out of the picture.

The Thames plan is for a series of 'city stations' on the lines of that run by the Canadian Moses Znaimer in Toronto, concentrating on local news, music and movies. Mr Znaimer is a consultant to the consortium but will not be a major investor.

After London, a Manchester station will be set up, followed by others across the country. The main pre-launch expense for the channel will be the need to retune most of the video cassette recorders in the country, to avoid interference.