Thames, Carlton in pix battle

Thames Television and Carlton Television are locked in a bitter row over the ITV broadcast rights to hundreds of Hollywood movies.

The dispute could prevent Carlton from broadcasting major films when it takes over from Thames next year as the London weekday ITV station.

Thames has rejected an T8 million ($ 13.6 million) offer from Carlton to buy its share of the ITV film library. Thames believes the value of the rights is closer to T20 million ($ 34 million).

There is even a suggestion that Thames could refuse point-blank to sell the films to Carlton, and could instead broadcast them on the planned Channel 5 London station during the week. Thames is currently bidding for the Channel 5 license.

Such a move would be a bombshell for ITV. The ITV Assn. has written to Thames insisting that the disputed movies were acquired for broadcast on ITV alone, and cannot legally be screened on Channel 5 under the existing deal with the Hollywood suppliers.

ITV buys movies via a central film acquisition division. Each ITV company contributes to the cost of the deals, and in return receives the broadcast rights to the movies in its region. Thames thus owns the London weekday broadcast rights to hundreds of major films.

Thames was defeated by Carlton in last October’s ITV auction. This means that when Thames’ ITV franchise expires at the end of this year, Carlton will take over the job of broadcasting ITV’s national network schedule to London viewers during the week.

It was expected that Thames, along with the two other defeated regional franchise holders TVS and TSW, would simply negotiate a price to sell their share of the network’s movies to their successors.

However, Thames is digging in its heels. Thames sources insist the problem is simply price; the company describes Carlton’s T8 million offer as “derisory.” Execs deny they are actively considering keeping the movies for Channel 5, but say such a move is a legal possibility.

Carlton execs, backed by the ITV Assn., say that Thames has the right to broadcast the movies only in its capacity as an ITV station, and that the contracts do not allow for the transfer of those rights to another channel.

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