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ITV-NTL merger talks confirmed

The Branson Factor

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Sir Richard Branson has given his backing to, er, Sir Richard Branson's plan to become a TV mogul by merging NTL with ailing end-of-the-pier telly outfit ITV.

The Financial Times and Reuters reported the "Rebel Billionaire" was pushing for a deal and a source at Virgin says he is "quite excited about it".

Owning 11 per cent of NTL, Branson is the largest shareholder. Both firm's market capitalisation is about £4.5bn, though NTL's £5.9bn debt dwarfs ITV's £700m in the red.

NTL confirmed talks were ongoing. A statement said: "NTL confirms that it has advised ITV of its interest in exploring a possible combination transaction and has scheduled an initial conversation with ITV to that end."

Branson's long-standing TV ambitions may finally come to fruition with markets primed by Sky's move into broadband and BT's forthcoming IPTV service. Speculation about a possible deal hasn't done NTL's share prices any favours though. At time of writing NTL was down more than 2.5 per cent, while ITV only lost slight ground on the 6 per cent it gained yesterday in heavy trading.

Ovum analyst Aleksandra Bosnjak said: "The bottom line is that a full scale merger is just a good Hollywood story, but a joint partnership or a venture focused on extracting cash from joint synergies is a possiblity."

We can't recall the last blockbuster we saw about broadband-media convergence merger talks, so we've started working on the screenplay. There's already oscar buzz surrounding Noel Edmonds' heart-wrenching turn as Richard Branson. ®

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