Granada has its origins in Sidney Bernstein's Granada Theatres Ltd, a cinema company founded in Dover in 1930. The company was incorporated as Granada Ltd in 1934, with Granada Theatres Ltd turned into a subsidiary. Granada has been listed on the London Stock Exchange in one form or another since 1935. It was awarded the North of England ITV franchise in 1954, broadcasting as Granada Television. The company also established a chain of television rental shops from 1959 onwards.
Granada entered the publishing business in the 1960s; it combined its operations into the publisher Hart-Davis, MacGibbon in 1972. William Collins, Sons acquired Granada Publishing in 1983. During the 1980s, Granada became involved in the British Satellite Broadcasting satellite television company. This went on air in March 1990, but merged with Sky Television plc in November 1990, to form British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB), in which Granada had a minority shareholding for some time. In 1991, Granada Theatres Ltd was sold to Bass. In 1994 Granada acquired London Weekend Television. In 1997 it acquired Yorkshire-Tyne Tees Television plc, forming Granada Media Group plc.
Granada also bid together with Carlton Communications and BSkyB for one of the UK Digital terrestrial television licences. They won the licence, though BSkyB was excluded from the company, ONdigital, on competition grounds. It went on air in 1998.
In 2000, Granada purchased United News & Media's television interests, which were Meridian Broadcasting and Anglia Television; Granada was forced to sell the HTV broadcasting business (to Carlton) for competition reasons, though it held onto HTV's network production business. It also acquired Border Television in 2001, from Capital Radio plc.
Granada also became involved in digital television but in 2002 ITV Digital, the renamed ONdigital, collapsed.
Until the late 1990s there was a widespread high street chain called Granada TV Rental in the UK, Canada, and in the US. The UK headquarters were at Ampthill Road, Bedford, England. This company started life as Red Arrow TV rental, using a red version of Granada's north-pointing arrow as its logo. This was a home entertainment equipment rental chain similar in structure to Radio Rentals and Rediffusion. The mainstay of the business from the late 1950s, and through the 1960s and 70s was television set rental. During this period television receivers were both expensive to purchase and maintain.
In 1978 the company expanded its operations into the domestic VCR (Video Cassette Recorder) rental market. This new technology was also a high cost item in home entertainment: for example, a JVC model HR3300 VHS recorder cost £680 in 1978. In the early 1980s the rental of satellite TV reception equipment was another opportunity for the company to supplement its declining income.
As electronic product prices fell, and their reliability improved, consumer behaviour changed from renting to buying electrical goods. This drift away from rental eventually resulted in the decline of this chain which (after a 'merger' with rivals Direct Vision Rentals, which they proceeded to close down having transferred all business to the Granada books) re-branded as boxclever, leading to a merger with Radio Rentals in 2000.
There was also an attempt to exploit the market for companies who preferred to lease their office furniture and equipment, rather than buy them. This offshoot was branded Black Arrow and used a black version of the Red Arrow logo. This company was disposed of and has no connection with any other venture of a similar name.
Aside from media, Granada's other main strength was in the catering business. It opened its first motorway service area in 1964, and established a chain of service areas across the British motorway network. Granada was the first British service station operator to move away from fancy dining and instead offer a basic but quicker service. Soon, all the other operators took on this idea. Granada's hospitality arm was at its strongest in the 1990s under Gerry Robinson's chairmanship of the group. At one time the company owned and operated 75% of the motorway service areas. It expanded into other areas of catering, including most notably the acquisition in 1996 of Forte Group. This included rival operator Welcome Break (later sold due to regulations), roadside chains Little Chef and Happy Eater, and Forte's hotels (including Travelodge and Le Méridien).
In July 2000 Granada merged with Compass Group plc to form Granada Compass plc, as part of a planned strategy to separate Granada's media and catering interests. The demerger took place in early 2001, with the media business becoming Granada Ltd. The motorway service stations were soon rebranded as Moto.
In 2002 speculation began to centre on when, not if, Carlton and Granada would merge. In 2003 a merger was agreed between the two companies, with Granada shareholders owning two-thirds of the new company. That the new company was in effect a takeover by Granada of Carlton was admitted in the first annual report of the new company, ITV plc, which treated the company as effectively a continuation of Granada plc (with the Carlton merger regarded as an acquisition) for accounting purposes.
The Granada name continues as the name of the North West ITV franchise, and is used to brand productions of ITV plc companies on channels other than ITV branded channels in the United Kingdom, where ITV Studios is used instead.
At the time of the merger with Carlton Communications, Granada was mainly involved in the television business. It owned seven ITV companies – Granada Television, London Weekend Television, Yorkshire Television, Tyne Tees Television, Meridian Broadcasting, Anglia Television and Border Television. It also owned the ITV Digital Channels Ltd pay-TV business, which at the time offered two channels, Men and Motors and Granada Plus. ITV plc has since taken full control of GSB and closed down archive channel Plus in favour of ITV3. Granada also owned 50% shares in ITV2 and the ITV News Channel, and a 20% share of Independent Television News. It also owned 45% of TV3, Ireland.