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ITV ups program funds 7% as part of merger

LONDON — ITV delivered on its promise last week to boost its program budget as part of the merger deal between its two major shareholders, Carlton and Granada.

U.K. commercial web ITV1 announced Monday a 7% hike to £849 million ($1.4 billion) for the financial year ending September 2004.

Entertainment, comedy and factual will benefit, helping them to maximize opportunities created when ITV’s late evening news moves to 10:30 p.m. next year.

Drama will continue to play a key role in ITV1 — the network delivered nine of the top 10 new dramas on U.K. TV this year. The increase secures ITV1’s investment in original drama, including a new “Prime Suspect,” starring Helen Mirren, to be screened this fall; a second series of WWI drama “Foyle’s War”; and “Life Begins,” from the creator of “Cold Feet.”

In entertainment and comedy, new commissions will range from Ant & Dec’s hit “Saturday Night Takeaway” to Nick Park’s animated series “Creature Comforts” and reality series “I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here.”

On the factual front, ITV1 will air “Holiday Showdown,” new from the makers of “Wife Swap”; landmark natural history series “Jungle”; and “Titanic,” an ambitious project using state of the art technology.

“We have made clear our commitment to shaping a stronger ITV, delivering high quality television to viewers and advertisers,” ITV CEO designate Charles Allen said.

ITV shareholders Carlton and Granada unveiled a new-look management team Friday that will lead the company through its $7.2 billion merger, approved Oct. 7 by Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt.

End of Carlton brand

Simon Shaps, chief executive of Granada Content, will head the merged production division, Granada Production, spelling the end of Carlton’s name as a brand. It’s not clear whether the name will remain as a sub-brand.

ITV joint managing directors Mick Desmond and Clive Jones will head the ITV Broadcasting Enterprises and ITV News Group, respectively.

Pair will report to Allen and Carlton chairman Michael Green, who will become chairman.

Granada finance chief Henry Staunton and Granada commercial director Graham Parrot take up the same positions in the new company.

The six non-exec directors will work together as a steering committee to manage the unification of ITV. While ITV’s new board has an equal number of Carlton and Granada execs, the net’s new management team is made up largely of Granada staffers.

The news will increase nervousness among Carlton staffers, who are expected to make up the majority of the 300 to be pinkslipped.

Carlton and Granada have until Nov. 7 to satisfy the Office of Fair Trading that they can meet the conditions of the deal.