ITV plc is a British media company based in London, England. It holds 13 of the 15 regional television licences that make up the ITV network, the oldest and largest commercial terrestrial television network in the United Kingdom. The network, which is branded ITV by ITV plc, has vied with BBC One for the status of the UK's most watched channel since the 1950s (a crown it lost in 2005).
The company was formed by a corporate takeover by Granada plc (the parent company of Granada Television) of Carlton Communications. Granada acquired a 68% controlling interest of the newly formed company whilst Carlton retained the 32% remaining shares. It began trading on 2 February 2004. This was the most recent stage in a long process of mergers between the original ITV regional franchises. It acquired the remaining 25% of the Breakfast franchise holder, GMTV, from The Walt Disney Company in 2009 and Channel Television from Yattendon Group plc in 2011. On 19 October 2015, ITV announced it would buy UTV for £100 million, with ownership transferring to ITV on 29 February 2016.
ITV plc was the result of a merger between Granada and Carlton following the various mergers between the companies of the ITV network that had taken place from 1993 when the ownership rules were relaxed.
The first wave of mergers began with Yorkshire Television acquiring Tyne Tees Television in 1992, forming a parent group called Yorkshire-Tyne Tees Television Holdings. In 1994, Carlton Communications – which had owned a 20% stake in Central Independent Television – acquired the remainder of the company and, because of Central's shareholdings, inherited a 20% stake in Meridian Broadcasting. Later that year, Granada acquired London Weekend Television through a hostile takeover worth in the region of £750 million. MAI, which controlled Meridian Broadcasting, acquired Anglia Television; MAI became United News & Media after merging with United Newspapers – owners of The Daily Express in 1996. Ownership rules, that previously restricted ownership of ITV licences by one company to two outright, plus 20% in a third, were relaxed, and so Carlton went on to acquire Westcountry Television (later re-branding it Carlton, along with Central), Granada acquired Yorkshire-Tyne Tees Holdings (with the parent group becoming Granada Media, later simply Granada) and United acquired HTV.
The idiosyncrasies and business model of the future ITV plc operation can be found in the way these new conglomerates operated their franchises. Carlton re-branded all of its stations with its own name, creating a single identity across the whole expanse of its territory. By contrast, Granada and United, while keeping the franchisees names, centralised their continuity departments – Granada in Leeds and United in Southampton. All three, however, merged the network production operations of their franchises, creating Carlton Productions, Granada Content and United Productions.
By the end of the 1990s, there were three dominating owners of the ITV franchises in England and Wales: Carlton Communications, Granada plc and United News and Media. In 2000, after an aborted merger attempt with Carlton, UNM decided to leave ITV and Granada bought all the UNM franchises, but sold HTV to Carlton in order to comply with the permitted audience percentage covered by a single broadcasting interest. It kept the production arm of HTV, however, renaming it Granada Bristol and moving it out of Bath Road to a new, smaller office in Whiteladies Road (near the BBC). This arm of the company closed in 2006, following later rationalisation of ITV's production operations. The last remaining independent ITV franchise in England and Wales, Border Television, had been bought by Capital Group in 2000, and was sold on to Granada in 2001, with Border's radio assets being retained by Capital Radio plc.
In 2004, Granada and Carlton merged, creating a single company for all ITV franchises in England and Wales. One of the consequences of the merger was (according to the company) an over-capacity of studio facilities and production units around the country, which had previously been rivals, but were now all part of the same group. In order to make cost savings, several large regional headquarters, studio sites and programme departments closed and merged. Among the casualties were network production and studio facilities of Tyne Tees in Newcastle upon Tyne, Meridian in Southampton, Carlton Central in Nottingham and Anglia in Norwich. In all cases, ITV moved the regional franchisee to a new location complete with hi-tech facilities for news production, but with a minimal number of (physically smaller) studios and the loss of many jobs. Tyne Tees' factual department merged with Yorkshire's in Leeds (which has since closed and re-emerged as Shiver Productions); Meridian's factual and sport production moved to London; all network production in Nottingham was re-allocated to London, Manchester or Leeds (and the local Central News studio moved to Birmingham), and Anglia Factual, reduced to a satellite operation of ITV Studios and primarily producing output for the international market or occasionally third parties in the UK, was eventually closed in January 2012.
Prior to the merger, and despite being rivals within ITV, Granada and Carlton had already been involved in several joint ventures, including the digital terrestrial television operator ITV Digital that went bankrupt, and collapsed in 2002. They also owned the digital channel ITV2, which had launched on December 1998, and 65% of the (re-branded) ITV News Channel, previously owned by ITN and was originally launched as the ITN News Channel. As well as consolidating its (now 40%) shareholding in ITN itself, the newly merged company was able to buy the final 35% stake in the ITV News Channel from ITN's original partners NTL in April 2004. In November the same year, and following a frantic last-minute deal with BSkyB to buy its half of the Granada Sky Broadcasting joint venture, they launched the digital channel ITV3, replacing Granada Plus which ITV plc closed down on satellite and cable. A year later they launched ITV4. However, due to multiplex issues (and the fact that it was losing money) the ITV News Channel controversially had its hours on Freeview reduced, and was finally closed down on 23 December 2005, with its Freeview space being taken over by replacements ITV4 and CITV, which launched in November 2005 and March 2006, respectively.
In April 2006 the participation channel ITV Play was launched. It was a block on ITV1. Following a series of scandals surrounding participation TV, the dedicated ITV Play channel was closed down in March 2007, followed by the late-night phone-in quiz shows on the ITV Network in December 2007, however the brand continued to be used for a time for part of the gaming section of itv.com.
There were rumours of take-over and merger bids during 2006. For example, on 9 November 2006, NTL announced that it had approached ITV plc about a proposed merger. The merger was effectively blocked by British Sky Broadcasting on 17 November 2006 when it bought a 17.9% stake in ITV plc for £940 million, a move that attracted anger from NTL shareholder Richard Branson and an investigation from media and telecoms regulator Ofcom. On 6 December 2006, NTL announced that it had complained to the Office of Fair Trading about BSkyB's move. NTL stated that it had withdrawn its attempt to buy ITV plc, citing that it did not believe that there was any possibility to make a deal on favourable terms. At the same time as the NTL bid, RTL, the then-owner of Channel 5, was also rumoured to be preparing a bid for ITV plc, with the possibility of a stock-swap with BSkyB; the plan would have seen RTL acquiring BSkyB's stake in ITV plc (with the aim of further acquisitions of shares in the future) in exchange for BSkyB taking full control of Channel 5. In the end, no movement was made on this possible deal and RTL sold Channel 5 to Richard Desmond's Northern & Shell Network in July 2010.
The company then entered into a series of disposals of non-core activities: in March 2009 the company sold its investment in Friends Reunited (a website dedicated to reunited former school friends or colleagues in a number of countries) which it had acquired in December 2005. Also in May 2009 the company sold Carlton Screen Advertising (the largest cinema advertising business in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland and now known as Wide Eye Media).
In 2010, a large-scale business reorganisation, called the "five-year Transformation Plan" was launched. Thanks to stringent working capital management and cost management some of the set goals were already achieved in 2012. These include a ranking upgrade (from BB- to BB+), an increase in audience share and reduction of debt (from net debt of £730 million at the end of 2008, to a positive net cash position of £16 million at the end of the first quarter 2012).
In August 2016, it was revealed that ITV had made an offer to acquire Canadian multinational film and television distributor Entertainment One for around £1 billion. On 10 August 2016, it was announced that eOne had rejected the offer, considering it to be "fundamentally undervalued".
ITV plc is divided into two divisions:
Through ITV Broadcasting Ltd., ITV plc holds 13 of a total 15 ITV network licences, covering the vast majority of ITV regions across the UK; it holds all licences in England and Wales, and the single one in the Channel Islands and Northern Ireland:
ITV plc is also the sole owner of the ITV national breakfast television franchise ITV Breakfast, formerly known as GMTV, which airs and produces Good Morning Britain, and Lorraine. On 18 October 2011, ITV plc agreed to buy Channel Television from Yattendon Group plc for an undisclosed amount, the transaction was completed on 23 November 2011.