Channel 5 and ITV battle for Disney films

Cathy Newman
Thursday 24 July 1997 23:02

Channel 5 and the ITV companies are both believed to be pitching to win the right to show an extensive portfolio of Disney blockbusters, which could lead to a conflict of interests for Lord Hollick. The Labour peer is a board director of Channel 5 and of United News & Media, the owner of three ITV franchises.

The recently launched Channel 5 is looking closely at acquiring a package of between 80 and 100 Disney films, including Con Air and 101 Dalmations, to be shown on terrestrial television.

ITV, which lost out to Channel 5 in a $140m deal with Warner Bros earlier this year, is also understood to be pitching for the Disney films.

Dawn Airey, director of programming at Channel 5, said the company was interested in the "popular blockbusters" on offer from Disney. She added: "It's public knowledge that we're heavily in the business of movies. We're looking at the Disney catalogue."

Ms Airey said that the channel had a substantial acquisitions budget but if, as seems likely, the cost of the film package exceeded the budget, shareholder approval would be needed to sanction a deal.

Lord Hollick, who is a board director, could then have to cast a vote on a rival bid to ITV. United News & Media, of which he is chief executive, has a 29 per cent share of Channel 5.

A spokesman for United said the Disney bid was a matter for Channel 5 and that executive decisions were taken entirely by David Elstein [Channel 5's chief executive]. He added: "United doesn't comment on Channel 5 issues. We own ITV stations but we're a shareholder in Channel 5."

ITV already has a deal with Disney to show films such as Die Hard With A Vengeance to the year 2000. An ITV spokeswoman said last night that the network was "always interested in new deals". The BBC may also show an interest, although a spokeswoman yesterday could not confirm whether the broadcaster was considering a bid or not.

It is not known what kind of price the Disney package would fetch. However, in May, Channel 5 paid around $140m to secure 60 Warner Bros theatrical releases, outbidding ITV and Channel Four. ITV has criticised Channel 5, which has a 9pm movie slot every night, for inflating the cost of terrestrial television movie deals. Channel 5 already has a $10m contract with Columbia- TriStar and a $40m-$60m deal for recent blockbusters from Fox. In addition to its existing Disney deal, ITV has secured movies from Columbia, Fox, Disney, MGM and Warner.

Channel 5 launched in the spring and is owned by United, Pearson, the European broadcaster CLT, and the American investment bank Warburg Pincus.

One analyst said last night that "a strong ITV board would remove any possibility of a conflict of interest." ITV is presently strengthening its central management with the appointment of Richard Eyre as chief executive of "ITV Limited".

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