Move would make web takeover target

LONDON — ITV, the U.K.’s biggest commercial terrestrial web, could hand back its public service broadcasting licence — a move that would make the company a much more attractive takeover target.

Regulator Ofcom, which is conducting a review of public service broadcasting, has acknowledged that ITV returning its PSB licence “was a real possibility in a way it has never been before.”

Such a step would relieve the web of what it regards as an increasingly costly and onerous list of responsibilities, including broadcasting local news and a high proportion of fare made in the U.K., and allow it to adopt a more full-blooded commercial approach.

Yesterday Ofcom CEO Ed Richards said there was “a real possibility” that ITV could return the licence to the regulator, which is conducting a cost benefit analysis of being a PSB.

The Ofcom topper told an Institute of Economic Affairs conference on the future of broadcasting: “We are in the process of assessment as to what that value is and we will expect something in return.”

ITV’s status as a PSB brings advantages as well as obligations. One of these is its prominent position on electronic program guides, where flagship web ITV1 is listed in third place after BBC1 and 2, and before Channel 4 and Five.

“If ITV were to become a purely commercial broadcaster it would make a take overbid from the U.S. a lot more likely,” said one media consultant.

He added: “At the moment a lot of people outside the U.K. have difficulty in understanding ITV’s business model.”

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