ITV hopes riding on ‘Con’

Poker reality skein slated for sked

ITV, the embattled U.K. web facing takeover by a group of venture capitalists, hopes it has another “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” on its hands.

The poker-style bluffing game, provisionally entitled “The Con Test,” has a £1 million prize and is co-hosted and part-owned by celebrity duo Ant and Dec. It was unveiled at the launch of the web’s spring and summer schedule Thursday.

Flagship channel ITV1 needs a hit to avoid a repeat of last summer, when several new reality shows, including “Celebrity Love Island,” failed to live up to hype.

Like “Millionaire,” “Con Test” will generate revenue from premium-line telephone calls as would-be contestants call to take part.

Format is co-owned by Ant and Dec — who created the idea — via their production company, Gallowgate, and Talkback Thames, part of Fremantle Media.

The hope is that the show will attract interest overseas, especially in the U.S.

ITV’s other summer tentpole is soccer World Cup coverage, which it’s sharing with the BBC.

ITV has earmarked around $100 million for sports, the bulk going on soccer, and all of it taken from the drama budget.

“This is the strongest summer schedule ITV has had for years,” said director of TV Simon Shaps, who declined to comment on anything related to Wednesday’s news of the abortive takeover bid involving former BBC topper Greg Dyke.

Speculation is rife that the Apax-led group, whose bid for ITV was rejected by CEO Charles Allen and his board, will not give up easily.

One of ITV’s key stockholders, Fidelity, is believed to be increasingly frustrated at the combo’s under-performing share price and may exert pressure so that Allen has no choice but to entertain another bid, be it from the Apax-led outfit or another predator.

“The ball is in their court now,” said an ITV insider who pointed out that the Apax-led bid would involve huge cuts to the web’s program spend.