Former culture minister backs single ITV

Merger could lead to greater creativity

LONDON — Chris Smith, the U.K.’s former culture secretary has come out in support of the merger of Carlton and Granada, the two largest shareholders in commercial web ITV, who are preparing to deliver their final submissions to the Competition Commission next week.

Smith, who has helped draft the Communications Bill, which will pave the way for the two media giants to merge, said in its current form it was difficult for ITV to “punch its weight globally.”

He said Blighty’s pubcaster the BBC is currently the U.K.’s only significant international broadcaster, but “a single ITV would be considerably larger, though still small in international terms,” he wrote in Friday’s Financial Times. “It would, however, have a clearer presence and could be more active in selling programs and formats around the world.”

Britain is the second largest exporter of TV programs in the world, but still falls far behind the U.S.

Apart from the economic upside, Smith believes a single ITV would also improve the broadcaster’s creativity. Currently, the requirements of the different regions and companies of ITV dictate the program schedule.

“It is inevitably difficult for bold and daring creative program decisions to be taken, simply because of the bartering process that must be undertaken,” he said. “A single ITV would solve the problem.”

The Competition Commission will present its report June 25 to the trade secretary, Patricia Hewitt, who will have a month to reach a decision.