Rivalry For A Commercial TV Franchise

It’s make-or-break year for HTV. By November, the ITV contractor for Wales and western England will know whether it has retained its commercial tv franchise following a blind-bid auction (new 10-year contracts begin in 1993).

Critics feel that HTV, whose franchise covers 8% of U.K. homes but only brings in about 6% of national ad revenue, should be turning in a better performance. HTV has held the contract since 1967.

Two companies have been strongly touted as likely contenders for HTV’s franchise: London-based facility group Trilion (which controls Cardiff-based producer Merlin and facility house Stylus) and Agenda, a Welsh indie producer. Observers feel, however, that rival bids could number as many as five.

Patrick Dromgoole, chief exec of the HTV Group, comments: “I have no doubt we will be able to match any rival bid and retain our franchise. We have demonstrated our quality consistently over the past 20 years; we are as economical as anybody else and know the finances better than anybody.”

Dromgoole stresses that HTV would not be making “the mistake” of becoming a publisher/contractor and dumping its studio capacity. “That would be a woefully irresponsible thing to do,” he says.

The exec confirms that HTV has been looking to bid for another, unnamed ITV franchise in partnership with the incumbent franchise holder of that area.

Stroking the Hamster

Over the past couple of years, HTV has made a number of strategic investments in related media activities, including a stake in Paris-based Hamster Prods. (along with Capital Cities/ABC). Last year it acquired video and film distrib Vestron U.K. Dromgoole says HTV is looking to take a stake in other European producers, including one in Italy.

HTV, which has the third largest studio capacity of all the ITV stations, claims to produce 1,200 hours of programming a year, more than any other commercial broadcaster. That’s largely because of its Welsh-language supply to S4C.

Under Dromgoole’s stewardship, HTV has been one of the pioneers of international co-productions, with both U.S. and European partners (the network has traditionally co-produced with Columbia Pictures TV). Dromgoole claims HTV has had more shows on U.S. webs than any other ITV producer. HTV’s hottest sales items over the years have included “Jamaica Inn,” “Robin Of Sherwood,” “Return To Treasure Island” and “Codename Kyril.”

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