‘Millionaire’ up for grabs

Complete auctioning show's rights, U.K. program library

Global quiz hit “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” was put up for sale by its British owner Thursday ahead of a management buyout by its producers, Celador Prods. and Celador Intl.

The two Celador companies are units of Complete Communications, which is auctioning all the show’s rights and U.K. program library.

Complete chairman Paul Smith wants to quit the TV biz after 20 years as Celador topper and has been planning his exit for 18 months.

As part of that strategy, he decided to split “Millionaire” — responsible for around 70% of Celador’s $60 million revenues in 2005 — from the rest of the business. Such a move will allow him to focus on Celador’s radio and film interests.

These maneuverings won’t affect the syndication run of “Millionaire” in the U.S., where the daily half-hour series is owned by Walt Disney’s Buena Vista TV.

Show was a primetime hit for ABC in 1999, but its popularity waned after the web tried to milk the Regis Philbin-hosted show by running it four nights a week.

It begins its fifth year in TV syndication in the fall. Season-to-date, Meredith Vieira-hosted series is averaging a solid 3.2 household rating, making it the 13th highest-rated strip in U.S. TV syndication.

Complete has hired advisory firm LongAcre Partners to help with the sale, which is likely to spark a bidding war next week when broadcasting execs from around the world convene in Cannes for the Mip TV program mart.

The “Millionaire” sale includes merchandising as well as the show itself, which a company spokeswoman claims is as strong as ever.

“There is a huge demand for the program,” she said. “In the U.K. it remains one of ITV1’s biggest shows, and last year it was sold to 30 more territories.”

Smith, who wants to complete the sale by summer, said he expected the show to attract attention from “someone who has an existing interest in ‘Millionaire.’ ”

Celador Prods. is run by managing director Danielle Lux, while Celador Intl. is run by managing director Adrian Woolfe. Both are seeking financing to buy their operations.

Smith said: “It is no secret that I have for some time wished to reduce my responsibilities within the television division to allow me to focus my attention on opportunities within radio broadcasting and film production. I also wish to allow myself more leisure time.”

Since bowing on ITV1 in the fall of 1998, “Millionaire” has been licensed to 106 territories.