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Merger’s impact will finally be felt

Nohr, Dilnott-Cooper in running for top spot

LONDON — Mipcom looks certain to be the last big sales mart where ITV rivals Granada and Carlton have separate stands.

The merger that has eluded the two hard-pressed companies in recent years should finally be inked by the time of next year’s Mip, providing some much-needed impetus to what has become a very tough market.

“I think there’s a good chance you’ll see the launch of ITV Intl. next spring,” says an experienced U.K. sales exec. “And the betting is that Nadine Nohr will end up running it.”

Nohr, managing director of Granada Intl., is no stranger to the merger business, having successfully integrated the distrib activities of Yorkshire Tyne Tees and United after Granada takeovers.

“The merger creates an opportunity to look across the whole business,” Nohr explains. She declines to be drawn into discussing the areas that would offer the greatest opportunities for cost savings and how many jobs are at risk.

“Any merger will benefit our customers,” Nohr insists, “because it will be a bigger, stronger company able to compete more effectively with BBC Worldwide.”

Positioning for top spot

Nohr, however, may be aced out of the top post by Carlton Intl. topper Rupert Dilnott-Cooper, a politically astute and experienced operator who has built the business from scratch, although some of the film libraries Carlton owns were inherited from the combo’s acquisition of Central TV.

“Rupert has played his hand very shrewdly and deserves the top job,” says an admirer.

Granada is generally regarded as having the upper hand in the overall merger, but the two companies are keen to stress how their two international businesses complement each other’s.

Carlton, arguably, has more to offer in terms of its relationships with independents, plus the benefits (but also costs) of running a library of around 1,500 movies, plus a made-for-TV film business that has built a beachhead in the U.S. via Carlton America.

“We’ve had our most successful year ever and are approaching the future in very good shape,” says Louise Pedersen, managing director of international sales at Carlton.

However, a merged catalog may cause some independents to think twice about being part of ITV Intl. — if that is how the new combo brands itself.

“If I were an independent, I might think it was time to sign up with one of the smaller distributors because my shows might get lost in a joint Granada-Carlton venture,” reckons a sales veteran.

As the main program supplier to ITV, Granada is far and away the most successful producer of the two; it is likely that its is the more profitable sales business of the two but the figures remain confidential.

As for specific genres, both have extensive drama, children’s and factual slates.

While Carlton has experienced some success with TV movies — with long-running titles such as “Poirot” (inherited from LWT) “Cold Feet” and “Prime Suspect” (a new season will be launched at Mipcom) — Granada’s dramas boast a better track record overseas.

“Carlton has got ‘Inspector Morse’ (inherited from Central), but that has dated in a way that ‘Poirot’ hasn’t,” says a salesperson.

In children’s programming, Carlton has made headway with “Thunderbirds,” but here, too, Granada has certain advantages. As a key supplier to CITV, Granada is a bigger player in the domestic kids market and is part owner of one of Europe’s biggest animation studios, Cosgrove Hall.

Having taken over Anglia (makers of the “Survival” natural history strand) and animal film specialist Partridge Films, Granada has a full catalog of natural history programs.

Whoever gets the top job — Nohr or Dilnott-Cooper — will have a real opportunity to erode BBC Worldwide’s market lead. The pubcaster’s market share is around 45% compared with Granada and Carlton’s combined 35%.

But some industry sages wonder why the two’s sales houses weren’t merged before.

Unlike their broadcasting businesses, which needs government approval because of fears that a single ITV would carry too much clout in the ad market, a joint distribution company needs no nod from the authorities.

“It should have happened long ago,” reckons a veteran in the TV biz. “At the end of the day, a sales business is a pretty simple business driven by hits and where you need to streamline as much as possible.”

Perhaps here, as in other parts of their activities, the ITV companies have been too preoccupied with domestic concern to seize the international initiative. That, however, may finally change.

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